Archive for July, 2005
A few months ago, I was in Scranton, PA (Motto: “We’re not stupid enough to be coal miners…anymore.”), visiting family friends with my family. I woke up Saturday morning, and I was laying in bed, and I asked my brother the following question:
“If your bologna really did have a first name, and, like, you knew it, then would you really be willing to eat it?”
I believe he was speechless.
(And for those of you who have no clue what I’m talking about, look here. Cretins.)
Just a little FYI. I actually started posting seriously on my less inane blog, On One Foot, so check it out.
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I’m now starting this blog in earnest. I think I’m going to start by explaining the title (On One Foot) and the address (hop and hope .com), hoping that I’m not being overdramatic.
The phrase “on one foot” comes from the famous story about Hillel and the would-be convert. (It is actually one of a few such stories, all of which are told in Tractate Shabbat 31a.) In it, a non-Jew comes to Shammai, a great Torah scholar, and asks Shammai to convert him on condition that Shammai will teach him the whole Torah “while I am standing on one foot.” Shammai has no patience for such an absurd request. Even if the man means it metaphorically, that he wants one pillar, one basic tenet of Judaism, of Torah, it is an insult to himself and to Torah to think that it can be presented so simplistically. Shammai chases him away with the builder’s cubit (a stick, really) that he’s holding. The would-be convert goes to Hillel, often Shammai’s intellectual opponent, and asks him the same question. Hillel, as was pointed out by R’ Avraham Infeld (based on this and other stories), was a man who understood people. Not only that, but he incorporated this understanding into how he dealt with them. The “honest” thing to do would be Shammai’s response – to reject the man for his simplistic approach. However, Hillel sees that this man could be an actual truthseeker. He might be a heckler, he might not be. Hillel is uncertain, and so he isn’t positive how to deal with him. But he decides anyway. He converts the man and says “Anything that is hateful to you, do not do to others, and as for the rest [of the Torah] – it’s [just] commentary. Go and learn.” You’ll often hear people quote only the beginning of that, but Hillel tacks on an extra directive to the end of his teaching – “go and learn.” Hillel was unsure of how to deal with the man, but he was hoping that if the convert just learned a bit more about what he was asking, maybe things would become a bit clearer. Maybe the man would turn out to be the real deal. Hillel had to hedge his bets, because, in a way, he was teetering on one foot, not nearly as stable as one who deals rigidly and stoically with the law.
I remember one of my teachers once reflecting upon the Jewish way of life we follow – one in which we attempt to remain faithful to a millennia-old code of law while existing in, and drawing from, the modern world. Referring to a group of ultra-orthodox Jews, he said, “I don’t know if our way or their way is right, but our way is harder.” To my way of thinking, part of the reason I chose this path is because it is harder. We are not masochists, us Jews, but we do not, as a rule take the easy way out. We struggle with our past because it is out of struggle that we were born and reborn, on so many levels. One of the most profound things I find in Judaism is that there are times when even the holiest people mess up, and the greatest minds have to simply say, “I don’t know.” They’re human. They’re uncertain, and sometimes a bit wobbly. That’s the kind of life I understand. That’s the kind of life I can relate to.
I recently was listening to a song in which the singer is addressing a bunch of teenagers. She says:
Find your voice, do what it takes
Make sure you make lots of mistakes
And find the future that redeems
Give us hell, give us dreams
And grow and grow and grow.
It’s simple and it’s straightforward. I thought ‘Yeah, that’s the advice I would give to my teenage self if I could go back five or so years and talk to him.’ I’d tell him to make sure to make lots of mistakes, and grow. “All growth,” wrote the author Henry Miller, “is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous unpremeditated act without the benefit of experience.” But on the topic of entering the unknown, of leaping in the dark, I think the dancer Agnes DeMille put it best:
Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.
I think she’s right. Uncertainty is life. Embrace it. Grow from it.
It is said that in the End of Days, when life will be clearer and our questions will be answered, we will all follow the stricter rulings of the school of Shammai. But until then, we have to deal with the real world, with all of its twists and turns, with every imperfection it has to offer, and with each and every fork in the road where neither path seems to be the right one. Until then, we are in a world of uncertainty, and we follow the school of Hillel, which doesn’t let the world bulldoze it, but which doesn’t try to transcend it either. Hillel taught us an important lesson: we don’t always know. In fact, we rarely know anything important with as much surety as we’d like. But that cannot paralyze us. You can’t walk anywhere on one foot, but you can hop a bit. We must continue jumping – leaping in the dark. All we can do is hop, and hope.
It’s time to go back in the hazy mists of time to the days when men were men and women were women and cantaloupes were really these advanced beings from Jupiter sent to either destroy all life as we know it or pick up an extra-large Blizzard TM at Dairy Queen. (It’s currently unclear; our translators are working on it.) In any case, I recall way back in March, that it was Purim, the Jewish holiday of gift-giving, sillines, and, depending on who you ask, either drunken revelry, or sober reflection on how you don’t really have to get drunk and how we’re missing the point anyway. I was on Spring Break and I went up to the Penn to visit some friends for an extended weekend, and…well, the details are a bit hazy, but everyone assures me that I had a great time and that the nuns aren’t pressing charges. So all in all, it was good times. Shortly after that, I returned to chilly Ithaca, and Hillel had a masquerade party. The party was to take place after Shabbat, and while I’d decided earlier that I would attend, I still had no costume that morning. Yes, I suppose I could go without a costume, but I would hate to break a habit of simply being in fine form. Then it hit me. (Don’t worry; I recovered.) Why not just go without any clothes on? I mean, dressing up is mostly just about dressing as someone else. In this case I’d be dressing up like a nudist, (or a newborn baby – take your pick.) Or…maybe not a nudist, but a flasher!
Yes! My costume could involve not only nudity, but action as well! After Shabbat, I set to work. I had a trenchcoat already, and I realized that wearing my dress shoes with no socks on accentuated my beautiful unclad legs. So I was done from the neck down. Then, to round it out, I borrowed a sketchy hat from one friend, and some apt sunglasses from another. I was set. I had only to go out to the party and expose myself. I know what a lot of you are thinking. “Ilan? You did WHAT?! You’ve GOTTA be kidding me.” (Except for you, Charlie. You’re probably thinking “Cheese. What if I was made of cheese?” But you’re special, Charlie.) Your incredulity is justified, I must admit, but sometimes, a man has to do what a man has to do, and sometimes those two men are really one and the same. I went to the masquerade, and I gloriously threw open my coat in front of crowds, and while I did not win the costume contest due to blatant favoritism and/or disgust, man, was it liberating.
For the benefit of our younger viewers, and in case I ever want to run for a public office higher than Assistant Dogcatcher, I have only included the “before” picture here in plain view. But for those few voyeuristic readers who just need to see it, look here for what’s behind the trenchcoat. Don’t forget to zoom in!
Any Superman fans out there?
So do you remember how he died, then was gone for a while, then came back, only more powerful than before? Well, the same sort of thing has happened to me. only I don’t wear tights. Not in public, anway.
But I am more powerful than before. Scary, isn’t it?
In any case, I’ve been a busy bee. First of all, as you can see below, I’ve migrated all of the old posts from the xanga site to here, right down to the comments. Everything you need should be available through this domain, so to those of you with blogs, change your links. So what have I been up to, you ask? Well, quite a bit, as I will likely discuss in future posts.
Let’s see…so I’m back in Ithaca, and surprisingly happy about it. Aside from taking a class, I’m working on a super-cool project in Human-Computer Interaction group at cornell. (Take a sec to look at their logo. Yes, it is a little stick figure with a squiggly line to a box, presumably representing a high-tech computer. Apparently, not only is the Information Science department on the cutting edge in HCI, but also in squiggly-line development technologies. My theory is that at some point they needed a logo, and someone drew out this one, likely on a napkin. And then they forgot about it. Silly researchers.) We’re developing a nifty little system to help directionally impaired people such as myself find their way around Cornell’s sprawling rural campus. I do not know how to tell if a campus is sprawling or not, but Cornell’s campus definitely sprawls. It sprawls the begeezus out of Columbia’s campus. The system, using GPS and wireless technology, will show a person using a palm computer or a smart phone where he/she is on a campus map. In addition, it will direct users to “hidden collections,” such as the kinematic model collection or the brains collection. Supposedly, the brains collection, a set of (disembodied) human brains, are the possession of the Department of Psychology, though I was under the impression that psychologists studied living brains. If my suspicions are correct, the brains really belong to Cornell’s Department of Necromancy and Zombie-Related Activity (NeZRAc), but let’s just keep that between you and me.
So I think that brings you up to date, with the big things at least. I’ll give you some of the little things here and there, which much more regularity than once every four months. Oh, and one more thing. If you haven’t yet noticed, I’ve started a second blog, one which will be for more serious stuff – my musings (some Jewish, some not) and maybe a bit of poetry. I have a couple of poems up there, but look for a real introductory post there in the nearish future.
Before I sign off, in the interest of full discretion, I should make a few rather important clarifications. I intentionally do not follow the style of many bloggers, who frequently link to humorous or interesting pieces scattered throughout the web and in other blogs. For the time being, at least, I have dedicated myself to bringing you a set of somewhat more original humor than your average blog. Which is not to say that I don’t occansionally borrow other writers’ styles, but that’s an altogether more acceptable and clever form of plagiarism. And being clever is what counts. But the material on this site is original, to the benefit of both the reader and my ego. Which brings me to my next point.
This blog, this whole hours-consuming enterprise, is merely an elaborate attempt to boost my ego. As the third of three children, as the kid picked last in gym, as the kid who (no kidding) was fed worms and put in the dryer by his older siblings, it’s time to fight back aginst a world which has ignored me and all it has to offer me for too long. I am self-possessed, hear me roar!
This blog is for my ego. That is its purpose. The more people read it, the better I feel about myself. I suspect that this is true of many blogs out there, but I am coming out and saying it. You, my readers, are here for my amusement, for my enjoyment. Dance, monkeys, dance!
Ah, this is the life.
If only these tights didn’t chafe so much.