seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
The holiday season's been going pretty well. I went home to my parents for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The services they've been going to for high holidays for the past several years moved to a newly built building after years of renting out a school cafeteria. It's still a bit of a schlep- about a two mile walk from my parents' house. Consequently we did not go to services for Mincha/Maariv on Rosh Hashanah, and on Yom Kippur I parked myself at the local library on the break between Mussaf and Mincha, because while I don't mind walking 4 miles on a chag, 8 is a bit much, especially when fasting.

For Rosh Hashanah, my sister and her husband came as well, so my mom had her full house back, which made her both happy and stressed out. There was this whole drama about the beds- my sister told my mom that if she was going to come for the holidays, they needed a bigger and more comfortable bed. Musical beds ensued- my sister's old bed moved to my brother's room, my brother's old bed moved to my room, my brother's couch was thrown out, all of this activity happening on various Sundays before Rosh Hashanah to make sure things would be ready for my sister and her husband. But in any case, it was a good time spent with family, and the prayer services were valuable as well as a time to take stock of where I am in my personal life and my spiritual life.

I started building my sukkah on Sunday- my brother came over for an hour to help with the two person parts of the job. I was way less stupid in my design this year and so it's actually a freestanding, reasonably solid structure, though still full of intense reminders of its own impermanence. Building a sukkah remains my favorite mitzvah that we actually carry out (My favorite mitzvah, full-stop, is v'asu li mikdash, for similar reasons). I'm really glad I now have my own backyard to build one in.

I went to a shiur on Sukkos last night and we talked a lot about a disagreement in the Gemara between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer about whether the sukkah symbolizes the actual booths the Israelites lived in in the wilderness of Sinai, or the Ananei Kavod, the Clouds of Glory that surrounded and protected the Israelites in their wanderings. The question seems to be about the degree to which the holiday of Sukkos emphasizes either the impermanence and uncertainty of our lives or the way that our relationship with God offers a counterpoint to that uncertainty. Obviously, it's about both, but which is primary?

I think my favorite observation at the shiur was that the chuppah and the sukkah are sort of matched opposites- the chuppah has a closed roof and open walls, the sukkah has an open roof and closed walls. The speaker didn't quite get anywhere with this parallel. He said it had something to do with embodying Avraham Avinu's constantly moving, evangelical lifestyle and I'm not sure what that means, but I feel like it has to mean something more interesting than that. Perhaps it's getting at two sorts of tensions between stability and movement: The chuppah represents a time when you give up some of your freedom to change your life and promise to provide a comfortable home to a partner and a new family. So the transition is from impermanent walls to permanent roof. Sukkos is a time when you have a comfortable home that you are forsaking for a week to remind yourself that you need to embrace change, so the transition is from permanent walls to impermanent roof. I think there's something in that.

So I suppose the answer to Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer's argument is that, as usual, they're both right. Which part of the symbolism of the Sukkah matters more will depend on what life stage you're in. And that the point of Sukkos is that they're both right: Sometimes change is a good thing, sometimes you need to appreciate what you have. Sukkos is designed to let you consider both possibilities at once.
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My uncle, my mother's younger brother, died this morning from brain cancer. He was first diagnosed about thirteen or fourteen months ago. It's been a slow and frustrating year of setbacks that brings us to today.

He was in several ways the family rebel. Unlike his sister and brothers, he didn't go straight to college after high school. Instead he worked various odd jobs and wandered around in his early twenties, before going to air conditioning repair school and ultimately getting a bachelor's degree in engineering and finding a career as a biomedical devices engineer. He was also a rebel in other ways- my mother describes the menagerie of snakes and birds he kept in the attic when he was a teenager with a bemused wonder. He was the only one of his New York bred family to flee the East Coast, living happily in Southern California. He was a person who always listened to his gut and pursued what made him happy regardless of what other people thought. I always admired him for that.

As the only engineer in the family, he was a role model for me. He gave me advice several times when I was in college about how to navigate the next step on my path to becoming an engineer. It meant so much to me, after I got my first job out of college, to be able to sit with him at Thanksgiving and discuss our work together, engineer to engineer. I think it was the thing that finally said to me that I had made it. He had a knack for solving problems with his hands. At various times he taught me little offhanded lessons about plumbing and carpentry.

He was one of the most intensely curious people I know. He was curious about people, and he loved talking to them and learning their stories. At my grandfather's shiva two years ago, he got into a long and involved conversation with a doctor friend of my father's who used the sorts of devices my uncle made. When he was leaving after the shiva visit, the doctor said to my mother, "I'm sorry it's under these circumstances, but I was really glad to get to meet your brother." My mother told me that during her last visit to see him, a couple weeks ago, he was mentally fading, but he kept being triggered by things he saw and remembering some random fact he would geekily share with her. My mother kept a list on that visit of books he insisted she needed to read, movies he insisted she needed to watch, things she needed to look up and learn more about. And it always went both ways. When I used to discuss science fiction with him, he would eagerly write down my recommendations and I would write down his. The world was a treasure chest for him that he loved to explore and learn more about.

Per his request, his body will be cremated. He was never a religious person, though he was always a proud Jew. Because of the cremation, my mother is not obligated in shiva, which she has mixed feelings about. Death is always hard to navigate, no matter the circumstances. But his life: too short, but always full, I can celebrate. Baruch dayan emet.
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As happens in the periods when I am not persistently a reclusive shut in, I am cycling between exhaustingly overscheduled and returning to being a reclusive shut in.

Three weeks ago I had plans every night of the week- D&D Monday, Puzzled Pint Tuesday, writing with a friend on Wednesday, Peter Frampton & Steve Miller concert Thursday with my family, local Shabbaton for young professionals Friday into Saturday. So I took the next week off from social interaction- the only time I went out was to go out for dinner with my dad and brother. Instead I read a lot and vidded a lot. Last week I was back to busy- D&D Monday, writing with a friend Wednesday, adventures in the City on Thursday, a few long phone calls with friends. This week's the 4th of July, messing with the flow of the week. I'll probably go see my parents tomorrow.

For a bit, I was talking to someone a friend set me up with. She's a grad student in Boston, seems interesting, and weirdly it turned out that her father has been a customer of ours for the past several months. We spoke on the phone a few times, mostly about books. Which I was just fine with, I like talking about books and can pretty much do it indefinitely. There have definitely been people I've gone on dates with for whom their inability to talk critically about books was a turn-off (An English major who said her favorite book was David Copperfield but couldn't explain what she liked about it.), so I was having fun talking books with her. Then she told me she wasn't interested, so oh well, that's how it goes. Maybe I should have talked less about books. More likely one of my other social flaws ruined it.

She recommended Walter Isaacson's The Innovators, and while Isaacson's not the sort of writer I normally love, she made it sound interesting enough to try. It's a history of digital computing technology starting with Ada Lovelace and going to the present day of web technology (as of five years ago, so already way out of date. ;) ). Thematically, it's theoretically about emphasizing the idea of innovators, plural, how computer technology has long resisted the lone inventor no matter how much people try to impose the narrator. Unfortunately, Isaacson doesn't quite manage to resist the narrative himself. In a discussion of the Harvard Mark I, he discusses the divergent creation myths crafted by Grace Hopper, who attributes the Mark I to its heroic lone founder Howard Aiken, and IBM, which attributes it to myriad small innovations from 'faceless IBM engineers.' But though Isaacson admits that the IBM version has merit, he doesn't go through the effort of giving names and faces to the 'faceless IBM engineers'. As a faceless semiconductor engineer myself, this rankled. If your point is that the teams matter, talk about the teams! In the end, The Innovators is a fun, breezy hagiography of the famous inventors of the computer age that gestures toward a broader vision it's unwilling to take to time to draw out in full detail. I enjoyed it, but I mostly enjoyed it as a pointer to a long reading list of books I'd rather be reading that do the details. I also appreciated that it was a book where the female innovators weren't buried or written out of the history quite as much, though at times it came off a bit patronizing when Isaacson described people as 'woman engineers'.

Because I'm me, I noticed when putting the book on hold at the library that the system also listed a book called Fashion Innovators and I got curious because I know so little about fashion. I was hoping it was basically The Innovators for fashion, a survey level tracing of the history of modern fashion, with an emphasis on innovation both stylistic and technological. It's not. It's just 2-4 page capsule biographies of 20th and 21st century fashion personalities, rarely reaching any kind of interesting depth, but it has its moments. The two page capsule biography of Lauren Conrad asserts already a broader definition of who is a fashion innovator than I had expected, and the more extended biography of Liz Claiborne paints a fascinating portrait of her both as a businessperson and as someone with a clear sense of style that considers both the practical and the visual element. I would like to read the book I'd imagined it to be, if I can find it. And I should hunt down a full biography of Liz Claiborne, too.

I've also read the first two books of Faye Kellerman's Rina Lazarus/Peter Decker series, which was love at first sight. <3 Murder mysteries featuring an ambivalently Jewish detective raised by Baptists and the Orthodox Jewish widow he falls in love with. They get the details of life in Orthodoxy so perfectly right, and also the feel of wrestling with God, the doubt and uncertainty of living a Jewish life in a world that does not feel tailored for it. There's a lot of books in the series and I'm sure the sharpness will wear off, but I'm looking forward to the ride as long as it lasts.

I also read The Ultimate Unofficial Guide to the Mysteries of Harry Potter, which consists of obsessive close-reading of the first 4 books to try to point out all the clues Rowling embeds, firstly to the storylines of the book, and secondly putatively to the whole septology's myth-arc. Many of the supposed 'septology clues' didn't pan out, but some did, and it's fascinating to look as closely at the text as this book does.

And I read two and a half of Seanan McGuire's InCryptid series, about a family of monster hunters. Action adventure books that I can easily pick up and put down. Enjoyable but not compulsive-reading inducing.

I've also gotten back into the rhythm of biking several times a week. I bike to shul for mincha/maariv, which is a short ride but important for keeping up the habit. And yesterday I rode over to the Raritan River and rode along the river for several miles in the park... total trip about 8 miles. Not all that much compared to my friends who talk about the fifty mile rides they go on, but it's a lot for me, and it was a big deal that my legs don't feel like rubber today after the trip. And it was a pretty ride, and a lot of fun.
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I moved into my new apartment a few weeks ago. So far everything has been going pretty well. The move was smooth and straightforward- since a bad experience a decade ago with moving out of a fifth story walkup, I have been a firm believer in lightweight furniture and especially plastic furniture. I can move any piece of furniture in my apartment myself, which is a great convenience even when you're fortunate enough to be able to ask your family for help with the move.

The biggest headache so far has been an incessant and mysterious stream of dead moths in my bathroom. They have thus far thankfully seemed unable to escape the bathroom to the kitchen, but every day I'd clear away several dead moths and then the next day I'd find a few more on the shower floor, in the sink, on the bathroom floor. A few live ones, too, but those were easily dispatched. I think I have finally resolved this problem, though, with a combination of insect spray and plugging up a hole in a windowsill. No new moths in the past four days!

I still need to figure out how to furnish my living room. I guess my decision is really about how often I intend to entertain. I can design my living room as a place comfortable for a group of people to hang out, or I can design it as a place comfortable for me to retreat to. There is some overlap, of course, but it plays into decisions like whether I want to fill all the walls with bookshelves or whether I want to get more couch space. At the moment the room just has a couple of folding chairs and a light fixture, while I deliberate.

[personal profile] morbane asked, when I posted about moving to my new apartment, about where I was moving from. I don't talk about it much, since it feels like a thing most people in my generation aren't very proud of even though it's very common, but since I graduated college almost a decade ago, I have been living back in my parents' home, as a fairly prototypical boomerang kid. I graduated in 2007 at the heart of the financial meltdown. There were very few jobs available in my field and nobody was biting on my resume. Most of my classmates had decided to go on for extra schooling to wait out the disaster, but I was way too burnt out on college to contemplate that. I spent the summer of '07 on my parent's couch watching all of the West Wing on DVD, and then in the fall I finally worked through my burnout and got to job hunting in earnest. I got a job in October '07 about six months after I graduated, but it was a contract work, temp-to-perm promised in six months, and it was only about a half hour drive from home, so it seemed to make sense to stay at home because of the financial uncertainty. Well, eight years passed, the job got more secure the more experience I got and the more I proved myself useful, and I was still living at home. It was time to move out. So I did.

I get along quite well with my parents, and we've gotten pretty good at maintaining neutral corners when we need space. I've owned my own car, too, so I have the freedom and mobility to leave and find additional space when I needed to get away, too. So basically living at home worked well for me and I haven't been itching to leave for the sake of independence, as was the case for some friends who don't get on with their parents as well. My mother's been subtly pressuring me to move out for the past couple of years, though, not because my being at home was disruptive to her, but because she felt like my progression to some envisioned adulthood was being slowed by my continuing to live at home. I'm not entirely sure this was a reasonable fear, though I sympathize with her worry. And my parents, though they did not live at home into their thirties, lived in an apartment building owned by my grandmother until their early thirties, so my mother's comments always felt a little unfair on those grounds.

But it's true that living at home partially exempted me from some chores and rites of adulthood, though only partially. I was mostly not responsible for cooking, as my mother got home from work three hours before I did and was generally responsible for preparing dinner. But I'm capable of cooking, and have picked up the chore at various times when my mother was unable, including a monthlong stretch after my mother had leg surgery. And I haven't paid a rent bill or mortgage payment, but I have paid various other monthly bills, including credit card bills and car insurance payments. I've handled all my own finances for quite a while. And the best part of living with my parents, unquestionably, is the amount of money I've been able to save from rent. I have the resources to buy a reasonably nice house now, and the plan at the moment is treat this year of living in an apartment as buying myself the time and opportunity to scope out the new town I've moved into for possible homes to buy. Or to decide I want to go in an entirely different direction, who knows?

I am managing these new burdens fine. I like cooking! I never really felt all that comfortable cooking in my mother's kitchen, because a kitchen is in some senses a really personal space that you customize to the way you cook, and because my impulse to learn new things by experimentation never really worked well with the kinds of cooking one is asked to do as a member of a family. And also because I'm bad at not making a mess while cooking. On the occasions when I was left at home alone, I'd take over the kitchen and try new things and my mother always teased me on her return upon finding evidence of my experiments. But I have my own kitchen now and I get to try things without feeling judged! I'm mostly still doing familiar recipes, but with tweaks here and there. I tried a new sauce with the chicken I made a few nights ago, and it was good. I baked challahs to freeze for Shabbas today, and they came out pretty well. It's not the first time I've made challah by myself, but the number of times I've done it is probably in the high single digits. But I'm looking to do it more often. Home baked challah adds something to the Shabbas experience.

Getting the portions right for cooking for one is something I'm re-adjusting to, but mostly I just cook too much and end up with leftovers, and that's been convenient too for the nights when I'm not prepared to cook. This is the first time I've ever been fully responsible for stocking a kitchen- in college I always had roommates to share the burden- so I've been doing food shopping in a little-bit-every-day fashion as I keep discovering kitchen staples that I haven't thought to get yet. I started out with a very limited set of spices, for example, and as new recipes call for new ones I'm adding to my collection. I'm spending a little more on food shopping than I'd anticipated, but I think it's mostly because of these upfront kitchen stocking costs. Once I have that out of the way I should be closer on track.

The new town I moved to has a larger observant Jewish community than the one I moved from. My hometown has a single Orthodox shul- this one has four, plus various shtiebls and so on. I'm going through them giving each a tryout, trying to figure out where I'll fit in. So far I haven't really met too many people in the Jewish community, but I have strategies for meeting people, I think this will turn out okay. I just joined a Facebook group for young Jewish professionals in town. And I still have involvement and obligations in the community I left, which is only about a twenty minute drive away.

And the biggest thing improvement in my life is the commute. My commute was on the order of 35-40 minutes each way, sometimes worse when traffic was bad. My commute is now 15-20 minutes. And it's not just getting an additional forty minutes into my day, it's that those forty minutes were the most unpleasant part of my day, with me having to be continuously alert of darting cars in dense traffic. My commute now is almost joyous. I get home less angry and exhausted and am able to be more productive on non-work things, though mostly that productivity has been channeled towards apartment setup stuff. I look forward to being able to channel it in other directions.

I brought my bike over yesterday and filled up the tires. I took a nice bike ride around town today, exploring the environs. The area I'm in now is smaller and less sprawly than the town I moved from- it's pretty nice to be in biking distance of things I might want to bike to. I biked about four miles and then my legs sort of stiffened up... I need to work on my fitness. I think I'm going to try a late afternoon ride after work a few times a week, if I'm up to it. In the Jersey suburbs everything is driving distances and I've gotten out of the habit of regular exercise, Shabbat walking excepted. Being on my own, setting my own schedule completely, I have an opportunity to build better habits.

One of my friends was saying how living alone is a thing he's not really comfortable with. He's always had roommates, and he's also the sort who's always inviting people into his home. I'm an introvert and I definitely need to at least create space where I can just spend time by myself, but I suppose I do need to keep an eye out that I don't turn my apartment into a retreat I never leave and never make space for other people in. That seems unlikely, though. I figure I'll be able to figure out a balance. (and my mother, who's been nudging me out for a while, is now worried she'll never see me again. Which seems unlikely. The past three weekends I have had family obligations- father's day, my grandfather's headstone unveiling, and going home for Shabbos. I'm wondering when I'll actually get a weekend without seeing my family, now that I've officially moved out. You know, I moved a whole twenty minutes.)

But yeah, I'm in the new place and I'm pretty happy at the moment!
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
Stuck at work waiting for software to update, so let's talk about life.

Passover so far has been pretty excellent. I have successfully kept up my Omer count so far!

First night seder was at my aunt and uncle's house across town. Second night seder was at my parents' house. Food was great and in massive, impossible quantities both nights, and had some interesting conversations about the historical context of B'nei Brak seder with a goyish labmate of my cousin who was there the first night. He asked why we don't still eat Karban Pesach, which is one of my favorite questions ever. It's so interesting to me to imagine a Judaism that did eat Karban Pesach even after the Churban, and to wonder what that Judaism would look like and whether it would have survived.

At the second seder, I used my new shiny Asufa Haggadah, which was beautiful. I loved turning a page and being stunned by both the beauty of the art and by the reinterpretation of the meaning of the page it forced upon me. The seder as a board game with a series of steps that must be followed in order to win. Hallel as a drunken outcry of joy for the redemption. Chad Gadya as a dizzying and deadly duel with the Malach Hamavet.

My cousin was back from having made aliyah less than a year ago, with stories of the election and her life on the Tel Aviv beaches. My sister shared stories of her engagement and wedding preparations. My father ranted against Obama. My uncle wisecracked under his breath. It was family, for good and for bad. I missed my grandfather, but not as much as I'd expected I would.

I was born on second seder night, thirty years ago- my mother literally leaving the seder to go to the hospital. So we had chocolate pesach cake at the seder to celebrate. Tuesday was my birthday on the Gregorian calendar, marked by a terrible pesach seven layer cake. I'll mark the birthday with my friends next Tuesday, when I'll be able to eat real cake and real beer. I don't really believe you can have a real birthday celebration without those two things.

On Sunday, I've got tickets to see the Mountain Goats. Their (I never know which pronoun to use for bands with plural names but functionally only one performer) new album, which comes out this week, is apparently about professional wrestling, and I haven't listened to it yet, but hell, I'll go see John Darnielle sing songs about professional wrestling if that's what he wants to do. I'd go see John Darnielle sing about much stranger things. Pro wrestling is one of those things where the concept was always more appealing than the actuality. I love reading ABOUT pro wrestling, I love people dissecting the angles, but I don't actually enjoy watching it. So in all likelihood I will enjoy hearing John Darnielle sing about pro wrestling.

And um... that's life. Besides work, which is a sinkhole of misery from which I cannot escape. No, not really, but it would be nice if my boss had some comprehension of the fact that when he gives me a tight deadline and I say "Okay, that's tight, but I can manage it," I don't mean "I can still manage it if you also give me five other things to do." Oh well, the deadline will slip and he will just have to live with his frustration or hire another damned engineer like he's been saying he will for the past year.
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Every year when my grandparents hosted a Seder, my grandfather would hide the afikoman for the kids to find. (For the goyim, the afikoman is a piece of matza designated to serve as dessert and the end of the Passover meal. Traditions for it vary, but in some fashion it is typically hidden during the Seder and recovered at the end of the meal in order to conclude it.)

My grandfather would get to the part where he was to hide the afikoman, and he would wrap it in a napkin and then he would place it underneath the tablecloth at the table, immediately to the left of his plate (He was a lefty).

Every year he would do this, and even though me, my siblings, and my cousins were pretty young, we pretty quickly tumbled to this and it became a footrace to the head of the table when it was time to find the afikoman. This being kind of boring, we begged my grandfather every year to hide it somewhere else, and he would tell us he'd think about it, and then he'd hide it in the same place.

One year we got him to promise to hide it somewhere else. He made a show of leaving the room with the afikoman and then he returned to the room and slipped it into the houseplant right behind his chair. So we ran all over the house, hunting for the afikoman, and then eventually we realized that his new hiding place was all of a foot away from the old one.

After that, we let him go back to hiding it under the tablecloth.

(Nobody who spends more than half an hour with my family has any trouble seeing where I got my sense of humor)
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I had expected my next DW post would be a review of the Sleater-Kinney concert. Instead, all I will say about it is that it was a wonderful experience.

My grandfather, my mother's father, passed away Friday shortly before Shabbos. He'd been struggling with Alzheimer's for several years, and over the past few months, battling against a variety of lung problems as well, unfortunately making trips in and out of the hospital on a regular basis.

The timing of his death has been a little confusing. You're not supposed to really mourn on Shabbos, and it's postponed the funeral, so it feels like we've been in a kind of limbo where we can't avoid the emotions of mourning, but we're without some of the rituals of Jewish mourning that serve as a support. There was an aufruf at shul today, which made for even more confusing emotions. My mother found it a little difficult.

My grandfather was born in Brooklyn to Eastern European Jewish parents. My great-grandfather and his brothers ran a bakery in Coney Island, which as my grandfather told it, they were very insistent that he and his brothers not grow up to inherit. He served in the Army during World War II, though I don't think he saw very much war, and then attended podiatry school on the GI Bill. For the next fifty years or so he worked as a podiatrist. When I was a kid he actually treated me when I had a wart on my big toe, so I can supply a testimonial that he was skilled and gentle as a doctor.

He was a huge baseball fan. He grew up a New York Giants fan, and then, his team abandoned him. He became a reluctant Mets fan, and for as long as I can remember, the first thing we would talk about when I saw him was the latest game. But he always insisted that he wasn't really a Mets fan, he was really a New York Giants fan. He wasn't exactly thrilled that I was a Yankee fan myself, but he was happy that he could share his love of baseball with me.

And he was a kind and generous soul, who never had a bad word to say about anyone. He was loving and smart and I will miss him a lot.

In his memory, I wrote a fic this evening.

Variation 4 (496 words) by seekingferret
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Merchant of Venice - Shakespeare
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: Major Character Death
Relationships: Jessica/Lorenzo
Characters: Jessica (Merchant of Venice), Lorenzo (Merchant of Venice)
Additional Tags: Shiva - Freeform
Series: Part 5 of The Jessica Goldberg Variations

Jessica mourns her father.

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Went to LA this weekend for my cousin's wedding. The wedding was nice, seeing family was great, meeting family was great. My grandfather's been estranged from his brothers for decades. They only recently reconciled, so I got to meet my great-uncle for the first time. He was kind of a weird old New York Jew (and I say that as someone who is about as Weird Old New York Jew as it is possible for a twenty nine year old to be, myself), but he was so clearly thrilled to be seeing his niece and nephews that it was just... really nice. Unfortunately, my grandfather took ill a few weeks ago and only just left the hospital last week, so my grandparents had to miss the wedding, but my aunt skyped them in and tried to make them feel like they were part of the event.

After the festivities (which were fun but somewhat onerous... multiple dinners and receptions and the like), my family drove out to the Getty Center to see its collections, having received multiple recommendations. Well, I am officially not a fan. The art itself is pretty top-notch, generally speaking, and I enjoyed some of it quite a lot, particularly the El Greco, Van Gogh, and Monet. (Though we only had time to look at the painting collection, ignoring the museum's sculpture, drawings, photographs, manuscripts, and other works) It is not as good a collection as you'll see in the best New York museums, but it's probably as good a collection as you'll see anywhere in America outside New York. No, I'm a bit snobby about New York-quality European art, but that wasn't the problem. The art was excellent. The problem was the presentation.

For the amount of art it has, the Getty takes up a lot of space. This is deliberate, to call attention to large-scale sculpture and landscaping and architecture as crown jewels of the Getty collection. But the architecture is kind of psychotic. Everything is structured around rigid grid patterns and pathways and portals are designed to funnel you through the buildings in specific ways. It's the most fascist art museum I've ever been to. This was particularly highlighted on the tour we were given of the Getty's gardens, which are micromanaged so that the gardens work like an abstract painting rather than an actual garden- all trees are cut to the same heights, plants are used based on color contrasts rather than actual growing practicality. There was something I found really disturbing about this. Even though I objectively know that any garden of this scale involves significant amounts of management, the fact that the trees were being presented as things you ruthlessly sculpt to create specific visual effects rather than as living objects whose organic growth is itself beautiful bothered me.

And the authoritarianism of the museum was reinforced by the trip to the museum itself. The Getty is sited on top of a hill on the outskirts of LA, and the parking garage is at the bottom of the hill, so that in order to get to the museum one must either climb for fifteen minutes, or take a tram for ten minutes or so. But there was parking at the top of the hill, only it was for VIPs only. Which left the impression of the Getty as a fortress of art, accessible (and free) to the public but only if the public was willing to jump through the specific and complicated hoops put in place to limit that access. The whole experience left me a little grumpy. And actually, kind of longing to make another trip to the Met, which I haven't visited in about two years, because I have my own issues with the Met.

I feel like most of the time when I review art museums on this DW, you get grumpy rants. I don't always hate museums, I swear! I love the Frick! I love the Philadelphia Museum of Art! I (mostly) love MoMa! I love the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the MFA in Boston. I love the Guggenheim half the time, and the Whitney a third of the time. It's just that art museums are really powerful, physical experiences and I'm very particular about what I want out of them.
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This story makes me crack the fuck up. I think that's a good thing. I think it is good that we can laugh about this now:

My great-aunt passed away last summer. She was the youngest of my grandfather's sisters, the only one born in America, and she was the last of that generation to die. She was buried in New Jersey, not far from where I work.

None of her children live near there anymore. My father and uncle got calls from their cousin, her son, asking if, when they did the tombstone unveiling, everyone could go to one of their houses afterward for lunch.

My father was mildly irked by this request, because it felt like an imposition. Our usual family custom is to go out to a restaurant for the post-unveiling lunch, or at worst the direct family members arranging the unveiling hosts. But there aren't too many kosher restaurants in the direct vicinity of the cemetery, and none of my father's cousins live close enough either. So my father was a little offput, but he was going to agree to it, because it's really not that unreasonable a favor to do for a family member, but he checked with his brother first.

My uncle didn't really have a problem with it either, but his wife did, but he was embarrassed to tell my father what the reason was.

Remember when I wrote about how we did the unveiling for my grandmother two and a half years after the event? And afterward we went out for lunch on Long Island? My aunt is superstitious and she remembers that my grandmother could at times be a vindictive woman. And she worries that in Shamayim, my grandmother will see that her husband's sister got an on-time unveiling and to make matters worse, her children threw a party in their home to honor her, when my grandmother got a delayed unveiling and no big home party.

My father told my uncle "Accepting that superstitions are irrational and have no basis in reality, that is about as logical a superstition as I have ever heard." We all agree that IF my grandmother could affect things from beyond the grave, she would probably be pretty angry about this one.

So my aunt's preferred solution was that we make the lunch after the unveiling a dual party for my great-aunt and my grandmother, even though a)we had an unveiling for my grandmother last month and b)the lunch after the unveiling is NOT A PARTY. It's a pretty solemn, complicated occasion where you reflect on your grief. Making it in honor of my grandmother also would just mess with all of that.

My aunt's solution is not going to happen. I think probably what's going to happen is that my father and uncle will kind of awkwardly hint that maybe they should do the lunch at a restaurant, and if pressed, my mother and father will end up hosting.

Whee family.
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I wrote about my grandmother passing away two and a half years ago.

Per Jewish tradition, we buried her the next morning. This angered some of the less religious members of my family. My cousin, her grandson, was in Israel at the time and though he tried to make it back, he couldn't quite swing it in time for the funeral. Some of her nephews were out on the West Coast and had similar difficulties. In addition, the Tuesday we held the funeral an ice storm hit Long Island, making the trek out to the cemetery somewhat treacherous and the actual funeral something of a slippery farce. Some of the frailer relatives didn't make it out to the actual burial site because they couldn't handle walking through the mud. If we'd waited a couple of days, some of my father's cousins argued, the funeral could have been better attended and less logistically annoying.

My father held firm, though, both for religious reasons and because he knew that if he delayed it a couple of days, if he entertained for one moment the possibility that scheduling the funeral was flexible, it would be a Pandora's Box of negotiations with everyone in the family politicking for the day that was most convenient for them. Nobody would be happy, and my father decided to bite the bullet, blame it on the religious reasons, say our Rabbi told us it had to be done that Tuesday, and just shut down the argument.

It shut down the argument, but it didn't shut down the ill feelings, so my father and his brother have been very careful to make sure that the tombstone unveiling would be scheduled so that everyone with ill feelings about missing the funeral would be able to attend. Consequently the unveiling, which is traditionally done between six and twelve months after the funeral, is this Sunday. Vindicating my father's initial decision not to allow argument about the funeral scheduling, for whatever that's worth.

My family is crazy. This unveiling would be emotionally complicated enough without all the family drama surrounding it. Wish me luck holding up to it all.
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Last Tuesday was my grandfather's yahrzeit. It was my grandmother's first yahrzeit about three weeks ago. I can tell already that that double whammy is going to continue to be an exciting time to navigate in future years.

I miss them so much. I lost my grandfather a few months before my Bar Mitzvah, and I remember so distinctly the first time I had to lay tefillin my grandfather's best friend came up to me to help me. I had already been taught by my Bar Mitzvah teacher, and by my father, but I think Meyer felt like it should have been my grandfather's job, so he was going to step in. I found it a little annoying. I was thirteen and a know-it-all and I didn't want anyone to help me. I wanted to do it myself. And besides, he wasn't my grandfather, he was just a surrogate. Meyer passed away last year, so it seems fitting to remember him along with my grandfather. He was, as my grandfather was, an incredibly intelligent and incredibly kind man and as I miss them both, I miss the way they were together, too.

The truth is I did learn a huge amount about Jewish practice from my grandfather, anyway. I learned about prayer as a constancy in your life, a daily ritual that's always supplying new meaning. I learned about the Jewish community as a central clearing house for culture and family and friendship- the synagogue as a focal point for much more than just faith. These are important subtle things that I have slowly learned to put words to as I've grown into my Judaism, but I always had them with me because my grandfather modeled them so well.

And the other thing he modeled was intellectual self-improvement. My grandfather came to America at 12 without a word of English. He always spoke with an accent, but he spoke English fluently, he read avidly, and he absorbed everything about the world around him. I could not possibly have had better role models as a student of life than my grandfather and grandmother. They were so wickedly smart, wickedly clever, and so tough.
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My mother's out of the hospital now, which is great. I've been overscheduled, though, so I haven't seen her since she left the hospital, which is more frustrating. I won't get to see her until Shabbos, probably.

Saw the John Zorn Masada Marathon last night at New York City Opera. And... well, part of me wishes this review were different, because [ profile] freeradical42 was really excited about going to see the show and had to miss it because of his great-aunt's funeral, so I'd like to say that he didn't miss much, but... it was amazing. I'm sorry, you missed something incredible.

Somehow looking through the names of the performers, I missed that Basya Schechter was going to be there, so there was even a lovely surprise. She sang as part of Mycale, an amazing 4 person female a cappella group whose album I'm going to be downloading ASAP. I was reading the program before the show and kind of squealed "Basya Schechter is going to be singing?" And then my very goyish companion said "Who's he?" And I laughed and laughed.

Oh man, the list of performers was incredible. 12 configurations of musicians, more than 30 players total, including guitar hero Marc Ribot, trumpet master Dave Douglas, jazz pianist Uri Caine, and so many others. Mark Feldman and Sylvie Courvoisier! Ikue Mori from DNA and Mike Patton from Mr. Bungle showing up for Electric Masada! Secret Chiefs 3 in all their mysterious rocking glory! Breathtaking solo cello from Erik Friedlander! Cyro Baptista's incredibly inventive percussion!

I've seen what I realized was a pretty high number of these musicians in other settings, but having them all together was amazing. Each group played a 3 song, 15 minute set and then rushed off to be replaced. The show started at 8:15 and ended near midnight. You really, really got your money's worth. I would have paid my 20 bucks to see a solo show from any of these groups. I would have paid my 20 bucks to see just the first half of this show. And yet unlikely a lot of sampler shows, where you enjoy the music but find yourself wishing the groups had more time to express themselves, I never felt shortchanged at the end of one the sets. I would have enjoyed more, but they gave me something new to listen to so quickly that I didn't think too much about it. And the sets themselves were musically satisfying and complete.

And Zorn was his usual mixture of disarmingly informal and awkwardly energetic. He reminisced about trips to the State Theater to see Nureyev dance and to see Wozzeck and Peter Grimes staged, and the implication beneath- "And somehow I've taken my own path and made it to the same stage" was sort of the theme of the night. Zorn worked hard to create a night of beautiful music and top class musicianship that was accessible both to the classic City Opera crowd and to his downtown music fans. And to people like me who are both. And he worked hard to emphasize the importance of community and communication to his music, which was incredibly inspiring. "The Masada family", he called it, and honestly I believed it. Everyone there played like they were happy to be there, happy to be part of the moment, happy to be talking to each other through music. There were a lot of hugs on stage- my favorites were Zorn/Caine and Zorn/Douglas.
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My mother's in the hospital recovering from emergency abdominal surgery to repair a twisted colon. I could really use everyone's prayers right now. Chaya bas Yocheved.

In better news, saw another opera last week. Last time I took this particular friend to the opera, we saw "Ariadne auf Naxos". Which is a great show- it's a farce where Strauss mashes up a commedia dell'arte troupe with a serious faux-Wagnerian opera. The part where Zerbinetta yells at Ariadne in this incredibly virtuosic aria about how stupid she is to angst for a lost love is close to my favorite comic moment in all of opera. But it's a difficult opera to make sense of if you're not steeped in operatic convention, and this was my friend's first opera. So she kind of struggled with it. Where by 'kind of struggled' I mean told me she wasn't going to go back to the opera with me.

I managed to convince her to see Donizetti's "The Elixir of Love" with me last week by swearing that it was nothing at all like Ariadne. And it wasn't. Elisir is simple, ludicrous, and full of pretty bel canto singing. You can just shut off your brain and enjoy the music and the pratfalls, and that's what we both did. "There's nothing wrong with not thinking," my friend told me at intermission, and she was right. So the good news: I have convinced her that it's possible to enjoy opera. The bad news: she still thinks all my favorite 20th century operas are nonsense.

So... Elixir of Love. Stupid story, pretty music sums it up. City Opera's production sets in the the American Midwest in the 1950s, and the set was attractive but the stage design was not particularly coherent. I don't really see what setting it in the '50s gets you, other than apparently an homage to Peter Sellars's famous Cosi fan tutte. I mean, you also get fun costumes. The hero wears a leather jacket, the rival wears a US army uniform, the girls all wear pretty dresses. The set was classic City Opera- small-scale, beautiful, and well-done.

My favorite thing about the story, actually, was a screwup in the resolution. The hero drinks the 'elixir', then every girl in town pursues him because they think he's just inherited his uncle's fortune. The girl he loves sees all the other girls, gets jealous, and confesses her love for him. But they never resolve it- they never tell him or her that the reason the other girls were chasing him was his inheritance. In fact, they never tell him he inherited at all, leaving one to wonder if the story that he's inherited the fortune was a lie or misinformation or some sort. This is soooo cool... I may have gone into a bit of a rant about comic tropes about restoration being subverted after the show. And it also leaves you to wonder if there was a supernatural intervention, if perhaps the Elixir really did work, through naturalistic means.

Oh, I should say something about the hero and the rival. I was teasing my friend afterward about the rival really being the hero of the show. "He doesn't get the girl in the white dress, but ends up instead with the girl in the red dress, who's sexier and not as mean. And he undergoes more character development than you usually see from the third wheel in an operatic love triangle- going from mistrusting Nemorino to liking him and signing him up to be a soldier, going from an ambition to sleep with a hundred women to an ambition to sleep with every woman in the world..." Okay, I was forcing this, but still, I really liked Belcore.

My other favorite thing was the snake oil salesman doctor and his elixir. He was played so well, with hilariously comic dance routines that really told the character's story effectively. All of the funniest moments in the show came from him, I thought, though we must remember that I was destined to love him because I love examinations of the struggle between science and folk wisdom in earlier points in history.

Anyway, yeah, that was fun. This week I'm seeing the City Opera's three one act Monodramas by Zorn, Schoenberg, and Feldman. Very excited.
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This weekend was a tremendous emotional rollercoaster.

I should do it in order. That makes the most sense.

I flew to Chicago Friday morning, took the train into the downtown area and explored for a while, then went up north to my Shabbos host, a friend of the bride I'd met back in May when I went to visit her. We had a really, really nice Shabbos where I met new friends and spent time with old ones, ate well, drank well, told funny stories and enjoyed ourself.

Then after Shabbos I met up with Ringo. We went to Wicker Park for dinner, hipster watching, hunting in a used bookstore whose mystery section was a bank vault, and delicious hot chocolate. And that was lovely.

Sunday I watched football with some of my new friends and then went to my hotel room to change for the wedding and meet up with two friends from New York I was sharing the hotel room with.

The wedding was soooo beautiful and soooo fun. The bride and groom are so great together, there was amazing dancing and the wedding band was Golem, there was great food and there was... just the sharing of an important memory with people who are important to me. Someone said after the chupah "That was one of those moments when it just feels like everything is aligned right in the universe, like things are just all following the plan the way they were supposed to."

And then today happened.

I woke up an hour later than I'd planned, leaving myself only about an hour to get to the airport and catch my flight. It was crazy. I made it through security just in time to sprint across the airport and jump on to the plane at the final boarding call. And of course I was hung over, so the plane ride was no fun on my stomach. My dad screwed up the time he was supposed to pick me up at the airport, so I waited an hour in the baggage claim for him to show up. It just seemed like one of those days where nothing was going right.

Then, on the drive home my dad got a call from the nursing home my grandmother's been living at for the past three months, and we learned that after six weeks of dramatic deterioration in her condition, she passed away this morning.

It's been an overwhelming day. I've been trying to be there to help my dad with anything he needs. We've known it was coming for a while, but that can't prepare you for the event. I saw her for a minute before they brought her to the funeral home and... it hits you. I don't have words for it. I don't think anyone does.
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Kind of proud of myself for telling my aunt's brother in law "You know where my Muslim friends are from? They're from America." Pissed at him that I had to.

Also pissed at myself that I came perilously close to Godwinning the conversation... [personal profile] roga, I understand how you felt. I... just... anytime someone defends immigration quotas, I get... out of control. It's a sore subject for obvious reasons.

So um... yay Thanksgiving? Honestly, other than that conversation everything went well. I haven't seen some of this family since last Thanksgiving, and I haven't seen a lot of the rest since Pesach. It was great to catch up with everyone. And 'taste testing' Scotch with my uncles was a lot of fun.

I hit 50,000 in NaNo on Monday, which I'm grateful for because Tuesday I was taken with a vile cold that left me dizzy and dehydrated. I spent the day either in bed or at the kitchen table chugging water and tea. Actually, it had already hit on Monday night when I wrote the last 1800 words in a blurry hour that I don't remember much of. I'm not sure how my story ends, to be honest with you. Still, 50,000!
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This past week, I was talking to some goyim about Passover and I made a comment about how we drink slivovitz, like we used to drink in the Old Country. One of them asked me where the Old Country was and... well, it caught me off guard. I said "It's a joke," but I couldn't explain the joke.

To an Italian-American, "the Old Country" is Italy. To an Irish-American, "the Old Country" is Ireland. To an Ashkenazi American Jew, "the Old Country" is a joke, a myth, a tradition.

My father's father was from Galitzia, in what's now Southern Poland. My mother's father was from somewhere in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but because of a linguistic coincidence he bears the name of a prominent Litvak family. Both of my grandmothers' families are from Eastern Russia. But when I said "we drank slivovitz in the Old Country", I wasn't talking about Poland or Russia or Hungary, I was talking about the Old Country, the myth Ashkenazi American Jews carry with them of the shtetl, wherever it was. It might as well be Anatevka or Chelm, for all I actually know about the life my ancestors lived back in Europe.

It was always mystifyingly difficult to do those family ancestry maps in elementary school. Non-Jewish classmates would come in and be like "I'm half English and half-Italian" and I'd look at my ancestry and say, "I'm Ashkenazi". They'd press and ask, "Where are you ancestors from?" and I'd tell them and they'd say, "Oh, so you're part Russian, part Polish, part Austrian..." and I'd freeze and tell them that whatever the hell I was, I certainly wasn't Polish or Russian.

Slivovitz is vile, though.
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Today's my grandfather's yahrzeit and, as I do every year, I am struggling to figure out the appropriate way to mark it.

I paid a shiva call last night on a neighbor who lost her mother and as I walked home afterward I have to admit I was feeling a little bit smug about how awesome Judaism is at handling mourning. I mean, no matter what, it's going to be really hard to cope. The shiva house was by no means a happy place. But it was filled with friends and family for the whole week after the death, filled with so much food that the mourners were desperately trying to force it on their guests.

And last night afterward I talked to Susannah and she was lamenting how Christianity doesn't have a concept like yahrzeit, how her mother struggles each year to handle that anniversary and doesn't have a structural framework to view it through. Judaism is good at that. But it still doesn't make it easy.

So to ponder my grandfather for a while, it's been 12 years and I still miss him. and my dad misses him even more. We tried to get him to tell his life story before it was too late, but there are still missing pieces. It's an amazing story- he came over from Poland with his father when he was 12 years old, with neither of them speaking a word of English. When they earned enough money, they were able to send for my great-grandmother and my four great-aunts. From age 12, my grandfather worked in the garment district. He served in World War II, then came home and married my grandmother and went back to the garment business. He eventually owned his own tailor shop and made a comfortable living for his family. He self-taught himself how to play the stock market and that was something he always had a gift for. He was one of the smartest people I've ever known and he was entirely self-educated.

We found some new information about the story this year, things that filled in gaps. At my great-aunt's unveiling last summer, her son told us that she'd told him that on her trip from Poland to New York to meet up with her father and brother, they'd stopped in London. And in London, she'd eaten her first banana. He told it as a joke, but it nearly provoked a fight right by the graveside. My grandfather's only living sister, who was born in New York after that trip, had never heard the story. She'd never even known that they'd stopped in London. Their whole family, she said, never talked about life in Poland. They'd just embraced the New World with as much vigor as they could.

When my father listens to Klezmer music, he's grasping for a world his father denied him ownership of. I think he's determined not to cheat me out of my heritage.

And then we have encounters like the one my dad had a few weeks ago with one of his mother's cousins. She told us about how they used to celebrate Passover in Brooklyn in the 1930s together, and certain comical elements of the family dynamic have not changed at all since then. My dad was incredibly gratified and excited to learn that he was, without realizing it, continuing family traditions.

So those are my thoughts on the Yahrzeit this year. I don't know that they make sense, but it helped me to write them out.


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