Monday, August 31, 2009

Facebook Et Al

I was stuck in the dentist's chair and he had the radio on. I was focusing on the program trying to ignore what was being done to me, and I actually got interested. The person on air was speaking about Facebook. She agreed that there can be some advantages to such a large social connection. But she focused on a problem, one that some police departments have begun discussing.

Unlike blogs, where clear factual details about a person's life may not be present, on Facebook there is a lot of precise, clear identifying material. Birth dates, maiden names, addresses, phone numbers--all these are in evidence on various Facebook pages. In addition, people talk about what they are doing on any given day in minute detail. So what's the problem?

You are going away on vacation for a week. You say so on Facebook, the same Facebook on which your name, your husband's/wife's name, your address or other clear location information is given. Or you plan on spending the day away from home, something you also mention on Facebook. Or you lay out your work schedule. Today's criminals have been mining a lot of personal information from sites like Facebook. And a lot of that information is an "Open Sesame" for people who are looking to break into unoccupied houses. Police around the country already have records of thieves who broke in to homes based on their knowledge of the occupants' whereabouts, information they got from social networking sites.

That radio program gave me some material to chew on. Even before the social networking sites came into existence, there was a lot of personal information that could be gotten from the Internet. The networking sites have added just the kind of information that criminals are on the lookout for. And it's not just breaking and entering that is on the uptick. Identity theft has become a major problem.

I'm not saying don't be on Facebook or the other social networking sites: I am saying be careful. Those are not "secure" sites. You have no way of knowing just who is looking at your personal information and what they will do with it. While we celebrate the "blessings" of the various electronic communication avenues, we also need to think of the possible side effects.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Why English Teachers Get Grey Hairs

I just fielded the sixth call for one of my children that began "Can I speak to____ please." One I could have dealt with--six was just too many.

There are two words in English that are usable when discussing whether or not something will be done by someone. One of the words is "can": the other is "may."

When you are making a request to speak with someone, the word to use is "may." "Can" has to do with your ability--physical, mental, emotional--to be able to do something.

When you say "May I introduce you to______?" you are asking for permission. The same thing for "May I speak to______?" But when you say "Can I speak to______?" you are going to get this response from me: "I don't know. Can you?"

School has yet to start and I am already getting irked by the grammar and usage groaners that are flying fast and furious. Come on, it's not as if I'm insisting that you use ineluctable correctly.*** Two simple words: can and may.

***Yes, ineluctable. A student last fall, in talking about a particular candidate for public office whom he did not feel stood a chance at getting elected, wrote that the candidate was ineluctable, so not the meaning he wanted to convey. What he wanted was unelectable. Ineluctable means incapable of being evaded; inescapable;inevitable; unavoidable. And as it would turn out, that candidate was, indeed, ineluctable. I, like that student, would so much more have preferred that the candidate be unelectable.

When Did This Begin?

There has been a lot of conversation around the J-Blogosphere and in the regular communities about the financial trouble our yeshivas are in. One particular point keeps coming up: schools are not paying teachers on time, some of them months in arrears. For those who think this is something new, read on.

I have taught in a number of yeshivas beginning when I was still a college student, way back when. In some I was a full time teacher; in others I was a long term sub or a daily sub. In all cases (with one exception) these were paid positions. That's 43 years of teaching. I looked back on those years to see if I could remember when it came about that some yeshivas started not paying their teachers on time or paying them at all.

My first job was the BY of Williamsburg. I was still new to NY and it never would have occured to me to even ask if the salary they were offering me for a long term sub job was going to get paid. There were no rumors around that they didn't pay. And yes, they paid, and on time.

After that, in no particular order, I was a long term sub at Shulamis elementary school, a long term sub at Flatbush Yeshiva elementary school, subbed in Flatbush High School, a long term sub at Achi Ezer, taught at JFS in SI, subbed at RJJ boys school in SI and taught at Kingsway Jewish Center preschool. There was not one single instance at any of these schools where I did not get paid on time and the full amount due. Nor, in a general way, were there rumors going around about non-paying yeshivas.

Then I went into high school teaching. In 1986 I interviewed for a job at YOB High School for Girls. During the interview the Principal informed me that YOB paid on time and never missed a paycheck. Huh? I couldn't understand why she would be telling me this. I mean, didn't all schools pay their teachers and pay on time? Apparently not. Once employed at YOB, other teachers on staff, who were also teaching at other schools to make more money, told stories of paychecks that were delayed a few weeks or that came in short. It didn't happen all the time and at every school, but it did happen often enough that it was becoming noticed and spoken about by teachers. With no exceptions at that time, the schools which were not paying on time were the schools more to the right and in Brooklyn. They were the schools whose students came from larger families than was the norm in the schools more central or to the left. While there were some parents in these schools who were college educated and in higher paying positions, far more of the parents were not college grads and were not professionals. Many of the parents were in chinuch, as morot or as rebbes, and those were not well-paying positions back then in any way, shape or form.

I taught at YOB until 1999. Not once did we ever miss a paycheck in all that time. (Perhaps not so strangely, the big donators pool [and members of the School Board]for YOB were not, for the most part, YOB-type people but were more modern and successful in business, with lots of money to donate.) Unfortunately, the stories were coming thicker about other schools where delayed checks were becoming the norm.

Since 1999 there have been many schools named among the group that have skipped paychecks or delayed them. It's all too commonplace to hear of schools which are months behind in paying staff. And they aren't all RW schools any more. Some of the more modern schools are having trouble making salary payments as well.

What's my purpose in having told you all of this? Far too many people are blaming the delayed payments to teachers on the general financial mess the country is in. Far too many are acting as if this is a new thing. Plenty of people who believe that it will be business as usual for yeshivas in just a year or so, when the financial picture gets rosy again. A whole lot of people, from our leadership on down, believe this is all an anomaly. They don't believe that the administrative and financing model for yeshivas needs anything more than a "little" infusion of cash until things are looking up again. Even those who are railing and ranting believe that the financial crash for yeshivas is of a fairly recent advent. They blame the higher numbers of students looking for tuition reductions now as putting the schools out of balance. What these people can't see or won't see is that the yeshiva system was already out of balance financially way back before I started out at YOB. Recent financial events have only made it more obvious that the financial structure of yeshivas isn't a solid one--but then, it seems that it never was.

It's not money that is needed now (okay, yes some money is needed) but management changes. The model we have got broken a long time ago. It's been limping along and somehow we didn't seem to notice or care. Well, the model has stopped limping and simply can't move any longer. First, we need major surgery, and then we need intense physical therapy. And yes, we need to stop going to folk healers and just plain quacks for the refuah we need. There are skilled and experienced practitioner specialists out there who need to take over the patient's care.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I do Hereby Nominate....

Most of the bloggers in the J-blog world I do not know personally, only by what they write. I could be sitting next to them somewhere and never know our J-blog connection. However, there are a couple of exceptions: bloggers that I do know, and I know them because they are former students of mine.

I'd like to draw your attention to one of those students. As you may be aware, Nefesh B'Nefesh is sponsoring a contest to send a J-blogger to Israel for the dual purposes of taking a NBN flight to Israel and reporting back on that trip on their blog, and to attend the second annual J-blogger convention in Israel. Jewish bloggers were asked to nominate someone to be the person NBN sends to Israel. There are many fine bloggers in the J-blogosphere, but my nominee is bad4shidduchim. Here is what I can personally attest to about b4s:

**When she commits to something she commits 1,000,000%. She never gives up.

**She is a fine writer with an excellent eye for detail, a pithy way with words, and the ability to make things come alive for her readers, of which there are many.

**She is an empathetic listener. Put her on that NBN flight and people are going to tell her things that they just might not tell someone else.

**I have never seen her at a loss for words. She may be startled, or even stunned, by a particular turn of events, but she recovers in record time, and her verbal take on what has just happened is usually spot on.

**She has a well honed sense of balance. She clearly has personal opinions on things, and is not shy about stating those opinions, but she is more than willing to listen to those with differing opinions; she won't exclude someone just because they disagree on something. Nor have I ever heard her put forth her opinions as the ONLY opinions that matter or that could possibly be correct. If b4 reports you will hear ALL of what happened, not just those details that fit someone's narrower agenda. This leads to the next point.

**B4 tells the truth.

**As Ezzie pointed out in his nomination of her as well, the audience for b4's blog is one that NBN could benefit from.

I truly believe that NBN couldn't find a better blogger to send on this trip.

Hat tip to Ezzie for posting the following information on his blog.

Send your fellow blogger on a free round-trip visit to Israel!

Now’s your chance to select a Jewish blogger who will be flying on a Nefesh B’Nefesh charter Aliyah flight on Monday, September 7, 2009 and attend the Second International Jewish Bloggers Convention.

Nominate your fellow blogger with the "Send a Friend" form on the website and with a post on your blog, and be sure to read the terms and conditions on the site to make sure your entry qualifies.

If you want to try to get on the flight, get a fellow blogger to nominate you.

The terms are simple:

To nominate a fellow blogger, you must be registered to attend the convention
(in person or online).
The nominated blogger can be located in Israel or the U.S.
You must post on your blog who you nominated and why
(and obviously send us the information too).
The blogger you nominate does not need to be registered to attend the convention.
The nominated blogger must have a Jewish blog
(i.e. about Jews, Judaism, Israel, etc.).
The blogger who flies in will be linked up with an Oleh/Olah/Family, and must write a series of posts about that experience.
If you want to win, you must find a fellow blogger to nominate you.
You can nominate more than one blogger (but don’t go overboard).
All nominations must be in by Thursday, September 3, 2009.
The NBN flight to Israel is on Monday, Sept. 7, 2009.
Additional terms and conditions

The ticket is round-trip JFK-Israel.
No ground accommodations or any other expenses are included.
The winner will be selected by Nefesh B’Nefesh.

Second Guessing

Eventually even the authors of multi-tomed works have to write "the end." There comes a point where something needs to become finished rather than almost finished. This is easier to come to for some people than others. One reason is that we are always second guessing ourselves, always asking "What if?" Just as we're ready to say finis a new thought comes to mind and back we go.

I think that part of this is because we seek perfection, and seek it in everything. I remember well as a new kallah that I wanted everything I cooked for the two of us to be perfect. And I was soon disabused about cooking perfection as my "perfect" scrambled eggs were not my hubby's vision of perfect scrambled eggs. The lesson I learned then was that perfection is in the eye of the beholder, or the mouth of the eater as it were. I also learned another valuable lesson thanks to those eggs: it's not necessary to invest the same amount of time in trying to perfect everything that we do. Some things just are not as important in the grand scheme of life as others. My hubby wasn't really looking for perfect scrambled eggs; he was looking for breakfast.

I had to remind myself today that the only place to find perfection is in the dictionary. I've been working on a handbook for school and have been tweaking and tweaking it for weeks. I finally got to the cover. For two days I've been playing around with the placement of exclamation points. An accidental glance at the computer clock showed me that I had spent over an hour moving those exclamation points around today. Then it finally hit me. No one other than me was even going to notice those exclamation points, much less care where they were placed and how many there were. I hit save and then sent the whole thing off to be duplicated.

We do a lot of that second guessing in all areas of our lives. Sometimes we want to make sure that we have covered all eventualities and then never actually get around to doing the thing we wanted to do. People who redt shidduchim or have shidduchim redt to them spend a lot of time asking "What if?" They try to make the shidduch they are redting perfect. Those to whom the shidduch is redt do the same thing. It can take weeks for a shidduch to finally get off the ground, and then it blows up after one date. Instead of just taking this as one more happening in life that isn't perfect, everyone involved starts to beat themselves up with the "I should have checked more" litany.

Here's the thing. Checking more, knowing more information in a vacuum, probably would have had the same result. A date is a "live performance" and differs greatly from rehearsal and learning the script. Some people get really nervous when there is a live audience to perform in front of. They need a bit of time to settle down and give a great performance. Others? Well, just because they're great actors doesn't mean they can be great in every play they are offered.

Even though I'm not officially redting shidduchim I did mention a particular boy to a girl's family sometime back in June. I told them what I knew about the boy and also told them they would have to do their own checking for any information I didn't have. When they never got back to me I assumed that they weren't interested and left it at that. Imagine my surprise to get a call yesterday saying that they had "finally finished all the checking" and would consider the shidduch. Two months to check out a boy?!!! Before I gave the family the news that the young man was seeing someone seriously now and an engagement was imminent, I had to ask just what it was they were checking out about him. My eyes glazed over as they read off the list of people they had contacted about the boy. They double glazed over when they told me which questions had been causing them some concern, among them "Do you think this boy will make a good father?" and "Is he the same in private as he is in public?"

Cooks know that if you overbeat a cake batter you remove the oxygen needed and the cake won't rise. If the recipe says beat 50 strokes that's what they do--no second guessing and no "What ifs" and no saying "If 50 strokes is good I'll bet 100 strokes is better." There are an awful lot of places in life that following the cake recipe--just so many strokes and no more--would be better for us than agonizing over and over again about the "exclamation points." Of course a whole lot of shidduchim don't "rise"--they've been beaten to death before ever getting into the oven.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

For Those Who Don't Know Why

Ever since we've made it official that we are going to move as soon as is possible to Las Vegas, Nevada, we have been getting all kinds of questions. Of course, the first question is "Why???" And then come the questions about what there could possible be in Las Vegas for frum Jews. I've got my patter pretty much downpat in answer to the questions, but for any of you who have been thinking the "Why?" question, go here and get an idea. And to update the story, there is now a girls elementary school, which began last year, and a boys high school, also begun last year.

We were just in Las Vegas two weeks ago , and yes, the price differences are somewhat amazing. Even most kosher food costs less than in NY. We were at Smiths and purchased extra large deli hoagie sandwiches, super stuffed, for between $4.50-5.00 a sandwich. Potato salad was $2.49 a pound. Fruits and vegetables (coming from the nearby California growing fields) were far less than what we pay in NY. When was the last time that you got nice sized oranges at 5 for $1.00? Or cherries at 69 cents a pound? Or lettuce at 99 cents a head? Car gasoline was almost 50 cents a gallon cheaper than what we paid in NY.

What the article doesn't tell you is that there is no state tax in Nevada, and no city tax in Las Vegas. Yes, there is a sales tax--8%. Still cheaper than in NY. So no, as one unkind person here in the neighborhood commented, we haven't had our "brains fried" by the desert sun.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Male and Female He Made Them

SL at Orthonomics had a recent posting about a possible yeshiva closing in Boro Park.
According to the posting, the Bais Yaakov of BP has sent home letters to its parents that it won't be opening in September. The only thing that would keep this from happening would be if parents, through mega fundraising, could raise the monies needed to keep the school afloat, at least for a short while.

I'd like to expand on a couple of comments I made there. The BYBP is one of the biggest girls schools in the city. You would think that its imminent demise would be big news all over the city. And yet.... My hubby works in Brooklyn, and most of those he works with would be of the group that would know this information. When he asked around at the office, he got only two people who had heard, ninth hand, some rumour that a girls school MIGHT be closing.

Yesterday, in two different shuls, my husband was the one to be the bearer of the closing news; no one else had heard anything. Now granted, SI is not an outpost of BP for the most part, but there are lots of people here besides my hubby who work/shop in Brooklyn. Some send children to school in Brooklyn. It seems we all have family/friends in Brooklyn. And no one had heard of the closing.

I discussed a comment I made at Orthonomics with my husband on Friday. I said that there was something weird going on if the BYBP was indeed closing. Those same parents who weren't paying tuition or weren't paying full tuition to BY also had boys in yeshivas in Brooklyn. It would seem to be logical that any yeshivas their sons were going to should also be in danger of closing for financial reasons. UNLESS these parents, with limited funds, were giving more to their boys' yeshivas than to their girls' yeshivas. I also said that if a major boys yeshiva had reached this point, where closing letters were going home, then the entire world would have known about it. There would have been screaming from the treetops to save the yeshiva. Every known rabbi would have been legislating for funds to be donated to the yeshiva. The shuls would have been making emergency appeals. Certainly you would have expected the major rabbinic organizations to have commented, which they didn't. Why not?

Hubby discussed these comments with the others at Shalosh Seudos yesterday, and everyone agreed that if it had been a major boys yeshiva there is no one who would not have known about it. They also agreed that it's probable that boys yeshivas get more money donated to them than girls yeshivas do.

And now I'm puzzled. Is there an actual hierarchy in today's Klal that says boys first, girls second? There is no reason to assume that Jews don't follow the rest of the population in the US in there being more females than males. Certainly we keep hearing that when it comes to shidduchim. So are we saying that the yeshivas for boys are more choshuv than the yeshivas for girls? Are we saying that if we can only educate one group, because of money problems, the males are that group? Granted, many of the boys yeshivas have been around for lots longer than the girls yeshivas. My mom was in middle school when one of the second graduating class of Sorah Schenirer arrived in her town to begin a "Bais Yaakov." But we now have both types of education, and have had for the lifetime of most of the generations living now. Why doesn't the possibility of BYBP closing down raise a storm in the frum community? You are talking, elementary and high school, over 2600 girls who will have no school to go to come September. Let's get real. You think there are any other schools who will be able to absorb this number of students into their programs? Come to think about it, the schools that have had rumors flying all year about not being able to pay their teachers and possibly having to close down have been, for the most part, girls yeshivas.

Well, lots of people have been asking for a new model of frum education. There's been plenty of talk that the educational system needs revamping. A whole lot of people are not happy with how schools administer themselves. But is this going to be the new model? Girls schools closing down so that boys schools can, presumably, get the funds to stay alive?

Those of you out there with daughters as well as sons, ask yourself the hard questions. What would you do if there was no girls school to send your daughters to? Would you accept 50 in a class in your daughters' schools so that your sons could continue to have 10-15? Would you accept a mix of public school/home schooling/part time limudei kodesh for your girls so that your sons could still have a full-time yeshiva education? Would you consider a mixed sex school just to keep your daughters in a frum setting? And yes, now that push and shove have met, would you put your boys first?

It's now the end of August. Put yourself in the shoes of those BYBP parents and those 2600 girls. What choices would you make if you had no school opening in September?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

One Size Doesn't Fit All

From its inception I have hated one-size-fits-all clothing. No, one size does NOT fit all. Perhaps, maybe there might be a few people that that clothing fits in all ways that clothing should fit. But everyone? Not in this world. But as long as some people believe that one size can fit all we are going to have the type of mis-fitting we see, in clothes and in lots of other areas as well.

There are an awful lot of how-to and advice books published. Some of them have some good advice to give, but only as a starting point for using what fits you and discarding the rest. Those who believe that the author had them in mind when writing the book need to remember that advice books are also one size fits all, and not all of that advice is going to fit you to a tee.

I was asked by someone to give her some pointers about setting up a budget for a newly wed couple. I glanced through a few of those books and some of the articles I've saved, but I didn't send her the names and tell her to read herself. Why not? Because a lot of them contain that famous Internet item--TMI--too much information. I picked out some items to write to her about, items that I thought she could easily adapt to her own personal situation. I wrote to her about some things that personal experience and observation have taught me are important. But I never lost track of the fact that whatever information I give her, she will have to sew her own financial "garment," one that fits the situation she and her choson will find themselves in. Yes, like with any well made garment, there are a few basics common to all budgets, the strong thread, if you will, that sews everything together. And yes, I told her that her "garment" cannot exceed the amount of money she has available to pay for it.

Those of us who have lived for a good few years and have experience across a lot of areas need to keep in mind, any time that we give out advice to someone else, that there are no "duplicate" people, identical in every way to other people. One size fits all advice is fraudulent at best. Beyond certain very few basics, people need to create for themselves the perfect "outfit." One thing I do know: if you don't like the color, the fabric, the fit and the style of an outfit, it's going to hang in your closet and never get worn. The same goes for advice that doesn't fit you well.

Should we never give advice to other people? Nope, I'm not saying that at all. But we need to be open minded about that advice. And we sure need to not get insulted if all or most of that advice is not used. It would be nice if some of the advice I gave the new kallah would be worthwhile to her, be helpful to her, be useful to her. Yes, I'd feel good if something I said could make things easier for her. But the decision as to the worth of the advice is not mine to make--it's hers. If it fits her, I'm happy I could help. If it doesn't, please don't try and follow it just to make me happy if it doesn't make you happy.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Quail Invasion

Just a few minutes ago I was at my computer doing some work for school, and my attention was caught by a swirling, whirling cloud blocking the sun right outside my sliding doors. I looked up, mouth definitely hanging open. A huge gathering of quail were setting down in my backyard. Although, perhaps I shouldn't be saying backyard but back patio. With all the grassy area to choose from, why did they pick the patio? They strutted around, narrowly missing each other as they perambulated all over the patio. They didn't so much as glance in the direction of the grassy areas. You could hear their squawking even through the doors and with the fan going.

I had counted about 4 dozen of them when they just as suddenly got up, en masse, and in a grouping that looked pretty much like a tornado touching down to earth, they flew off towards the woods further back. I almost thought I had imagined them, but they left a lot of "evidence" behind on the patio. Sigh. I suppose if you got to go, you got to go, but why pick my patio out of all areas available to them?

Oh well, the patio probably needed hosing down anyway. And I got something out of the experience besides a strange moment in nature. I learned that "a group of quail is called a covey, bevy, or drift." Yup, I'm going to miss my backyard when we move.

Learned By Accident

You know the best way to get super hard avocados to ripen within one day? The same with those super hard melons? Forget brown paper bags. Accidentally forget them in your car trunk, parked on a sunny street with temperatures in the 90s. Normally it takes those avocados and melons 3-5 days at standard room temperature to get to eating consistency. Leaving them in the trunk shrunk the time to way less than 24 hours.

Granted, I didn't do this on purpose, but aren't some of the best discoveries those that came about by accident? I think I may just have discovered an emergency tool to use, especially in warm weather, for items I need to use for Shabbos that aren't getting ripe enough fast enough. I mean, why not? The car is just sitting there anyway--it might as well be earning its keep even when I'm not driving it.

Note: it just could be that I picked out a top of the line avocado, but that trunk-ripened avocado was one of the best tasting, creamiest avocados I've had in ages.

On Being Overscheduled

Modern life has brought many benefits with it, too numerous to list here. But along with the benefits have come a few glitches that many of us are suffering from. Perhaps one of the worst of these glitches is the over scheduling that most of us are living with. Rationally we know that there are only 24 hours in one day and only 7 days in one week. Rationally we know that sleep is required. Yet, despite our knowing this, we still try to pack into that 24 hours about 36 hours worth of activities. We sometimes take upon ourselves more than it is physically possible to do. Other times we don't seem to choose but have things thrust upon us.

Right about now some parents are facing or about to face a different aspect of the scheduling nightmare. Among our friends, three children got married this summer. Soon enough it is going to be yom tov time. And that's where the war begins. Who will get the kids for which yom tom? Some people have a minhag that the first year belongs to the kallah's side. Nice in theory but it doesn't always work out in practice. Things get more complicated because there are other married siblings and other muchatonim to have to work things out with. And those other muchatonim themselves also have other muchatonim, who also have muchatonim. Make a change anywhere along the line and a whole lot of people are not going to be happy.

Add in that some of our friends are already in the position where they are going to their married children for yom tov. What do you do with the newly married couple then? In theory it should be that the new younger couple gets invited to the married sibling as well. That's the theory. But sometimes that sibling just doesn't have the room to house another couple. Sometimes siblings get along better in absentia than crowded together in a small space for a few days.

One of these friends is facing the possibility that no children will be coming home for yom tov. They truly aren't happy about that. But trying to reschedule even one of their kids would require a world conference just to get all the "players" into one room to try to renegotiate.

A different friend thought to solve her problem by inviting the muchatonim for yom tov as well as the newly married couple. And it might have worked, only the muchatonim were on the schedule to have two other of their married kids for yom tov this time.

Once upon a time, when parents and married children mostly lived near each other, it was far easier to figure out meals to be eaten together over a yom tov. But today, when people live so spread out, where there are more children, requiring more scheduling, just getting together for a few days can be seemingly impossible.

At a time when we should all be joyful and full of yom tov spirit, some families are going to be nursing hurt feelings. I don't know that there is any easy answer to this scheduling dilemma, or even any answer at all. I do know that resentment and hurt make for very poor spices for yom tov meals. Anyone out there with any practical suggestions that might help?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Male/Female Differences

This was sent to me via email by my sister. It may not apply in every case, but where it fits, oh boy does it fit. Note to Readers: I posted this with the attribution that came with it at the bottom. A few readers recognized the piece, sort of, and are giving credit to Dave Barry for it. If anyone can point to the exact, actual attribution I would appreciate it.

The Difference...

The difference between men and women....

Let's say a guy named Roger is attracted to a woman named Elaine. He asks her out to a movie; she accepts; they have a pretty good time. A few nights later he asks her out to dinner, and again they enjoy themselves. They continue to see each other regularly, and after a while neither one of them is seeing anybody else.

And then, one evening when they're driving home, a thought occurs to Elaine, and, without really thinking, she says it aloud: "Do you realize that, as of tonight, we've been seeing each other for exactly six months?"

And then there is silence in the car. To Elaine, it seems like a very loud silence. She thinks to herself: Geez, wonder if it bothers him that I said that. Maybe he's been feeling confined by our relationship; maybe he thinks I'm trying to push him into some kind of obligation that he doesn't want, or isn't sure of.

And Roger is thinking: Gosh. Six months.

And Elaine is thinking: But, hey, I'm not so sure I want this kind of relationship, either. Sometimes I wish I had a little more space, so I'd have time to think about whether I really want us to keep going the way we are, moving steadily toward...I mean, where are we going? Are we just going to keep seeing each other at this level of intimacy? Are we heading toward marriage? Toward children? Toward a lifetime together? Am I ready for that level of commitment? Do I really even know this person?

And Roger is, that means it was...let's see...February when we started going out, which was right after I had the car at the dealer's, which means...lemme check the odometer...Whoa! I am way overdue for an oil change here.

And Elaine is thinking: He's upset. I can see it on his face. Maybe I'm reading this completely wrong. Maybe he wants more from our relationship, more intimacy, more commitment; maybe he has sensed-even before I sensed it- that I was feeling some reservations. Yes, I bet that's it. That's why he's so reluctant to say anything about his own feelings. He's afraid of being rejected.

And Roger is thinking: And I'm gonna have them look at the transmission again. I don't care what those morons say, it's still not shifting right. And they better not try to blame it on the cold weather this time. What cold weather? It's 87 degrees out, and this thing is shifting like a garbage truck, and I paid those incompetent thieves $600.

And Elaine is thinking: He's angry. And I don't blame him. I'd be angry, too. I feel so guilty, putting him through this, but I can't help the way I feel. I'm just not sure.

And Roger is thinking: They'll probably say it's only a 90-day warranty...scumballs.

And Elaine is thinking: Maybe I'm just too idealistic, waiting for a knight to come riding up on his white horse, when I'm sitting right next to a perfectly good person, a person I enjoy being with, a person I truly do care about, a person who seems to truly care about me. A person who is in pain because of my self-centered, schoolgirl romantic fantasy.

And Roger is thinking: Warranty? They want a warranty? I'll give them a warranty. I'll take their warranty and stick it right up their...

"Roger," Elaine says aloud.

"What?" says Roger, startled.

"Please don't torture yourself like this," she says, her eyes beginning to brim with tears. "Maybe I should never have... Oh God, I feel so... (She breaks down, sobbing.)

"What?" says Roger.

"I'm such a fool," Elaine sobs. "I mean, I know there's no knight. I really know that. It's silly. There's no knight, and there's no horse."

"There's no horse???" says Roger.

"You think I'm a fool, don't you?" Elaine says.

"NO!" says Roger, glad to finally know the correct answer.

"It's just's that I...I need some time," Elaine says.

(There is a 15-second pause while Roger, thinking as fast as he can, tries to come up with a safe response. Finally he comes up with one that he thinks might work.)

"Yes," he says.

(Elaine, deeply moved, touches his hand.) "Oh, Roger, do you really feel that way?" she says.

"What way?" says Roger.

"That way about time," says Elaine.

"Oh," says Roger. "Yes."

(Elaine turns to face him and gazes deeply into his eyes, causing him to become very nervous about what she might say next, especially if it involves a horse. At last she speaks.)

"Thank you, Roger," she says.

"Thank you," says Roger.

Then he takes her home, and she lies on her bed, a conflicted, tortured soul, and weeps until dawn, whereas when Roger gets back to his place, he opens a bag of Doritos, turns on the TV, and immediately becomes deeply involved in a rerun of a tennis match between two Czechoslovakians he never heard of. A tiny voice in the far recesses of his mind tells him that something major was going on back there in the car, but he is pretty sure there is no way he would ever understand what, and so he figures it's better if he doesn't think about it.

The next day Elaine will call her closest friend, or perhaps two of them, and they will talk about this situation for six straight hours. In painstaking detail, they will analyze everything she said and everything he said, going over it time and time again, exploring every word, expression, and gesture for nuances of meaning, considering every possible ramification. They will continue to discuss this subject, off and on, for weeks, maybe months, never reaching any definite conclusions, but never getting bored with it, either.

Meanwhile, Roger, while playing racquetball one day with a mutual friend of his and Elaine's, will pause just before serving, frown, and say: "Norm, did Elaine ever own a horse?"

And that's the difference between men and women.

[ Humor Wilkinson Home ]
Last Updated: June 25, 1999

Monday, August 17, 2009

Don't Put Off...

Note to Readers: There's a bit of irony here, which you may note as you read this posting. The posting should have gone up yesterday--it didn't. C'est la vie.

Somewhere along the line I imagine we've all heard that old saying: "Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today." I've followed this maxim many a time. And then today I rebelled. Why not do X tomorrow? It's not that the maxim says what you SHOULD do today, just what you CAN do today. If it's not a must activity then putting it off may bring no harm and could do you some good. You've been up and at 'em for hours, checking off items on your to do list. It's hot and muggy. It's the weekend, and somewhere you are supposed to find some time to relax, to enjoy yourself, to lay back. But there's that closet hiding in a corner that really needs to get looked at--who knows what is hiding in there? Unless what is hiding in there is cash money you've forgotten you've hidden there, just what about that closet is so compelling that you have to tackle it today?

Yes, I know that I am probably not going to get to that closet tomorrow, and maybe not the tomorrow after that either. So? Will the world come to an end if I don't sort out what is waiting in that closet's depths today? Will I be healthier/wealthier/wiser from cleaning out that closet today? Yes, someday that closet will need to be looked at, but just because I can do so today doesn't mean that I have to.

I know a few people who get very edgy if they are not fully occupied all the time. They need to be in constant motion. These people pack as much activity as they can into every single day. No putting off anything for them. I also know a few people I put in the doom and gloom category. They are always expecting a catastrophe to hit tomorrow, so they feel compelled to do everything they can today. Are these people really any happier than I am?

Today I've done enough. Let tomorrow bring what tomorrow will bring. The rest of today is mine. Okay, I still have a load of laundry for the dryer and a few loads to fold. Yes, dinner needs to be prepared. Okay, I need to get back to the person I'm getting a car from. Yup, I need to touch base with my mom and sister. But that closet? "Unto every thing there is a season" and today I could clean out that closet...and I'm not going to. Its "season" is just going to have to wait.

I'm not procrastinating, really! I'm making a clear cut, rational decision about time management and allotment. And yes, I'm putting myself first for a change, before all the must-do items. Who knows, I could get used to this.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

7 Things I Love

Bad4 tagged me while I was gone for a meme on seven things I like. Herewith seven things I love.

1. Reading. It matters not at all if I adore what I am reading, although loving the reading matter is better than not, but the very thought of curling up with words on a page causes me great anticipatory pleasure. I'd say I'm one of the few who loved getting reading assignments in school.

2. The Great Outdoors. My husband divides the world into "God's Country" and "Man's Creations." Now granted, there are some awesome pieces of architecture out there. But for real love, show me God's wonders. I'd rather stare out my sliding doors at the nature on display than watch/see just about anything else. And as much as I love reading--and yes, poetry--I subscribe to the idea that "I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree."

3. The Unknown. Don't get me wrong: I like and need a certain amount of order and predictability to my life. I like knowing that tomorrow will follow today in the way I expect it to. BUT...I love knowing that what I have today is not all there is. I love the idea that there are experiences and pleasures that are still out there. I can appreciate what I have now while still expecting that "the best is yet to be."

4. Conversation. No big surprise but I like to talk with people. Words forge connections. Conversations bring knowledge. Conversation can make friends out of strangers. Talking with each other rather than at each other is a way to expand what I know and who I know.

5. The Internet. This one ties in with 1,3 and 4 above. And it doesn't hurt that the Internet has on more than one occasion saved me tons of time, aggravation and money. It's connected me to people I would otherwise not have had the opportunity to meet. It's given me easy access to resources I might not otherwise have been able to get to. It lets me get to the unknown on my schedule--and to leave if I don't like what I'm seeing. And that I can enjoy its treasures while in a comfy robe and slippers sipping a cup of coffee is also part of its appeal. The Internet doesn't care if I'm wearing the right clothes.

6. First Days or Starting Over. Even though the first day back at school can be fraught with tension, it's also filled with great possibilities. Every term beginning I fully believe that everything will go just as it should and be even better than I can imagine. Every Rosh Hashanah, every Yom Kippur, every New Years Day I fire up with enthusiasm, with thanks that I've been given another chance to get things right. I love when the monthly calendar goes back to starting with one--another chance to work things out, to get another chance at perfection of self and actions.

7. Love. Yes, I love the idea that in real life I'm not limited to seven things I can love. I like knowing that what I loved 50 years ago or even 50 days ago does not have to define me today, because I'm free to love something else that fits where I am in life. Or I'm free to continue loving something that I've had from birth--my mom, my kids. Or a love that continues to grow and change over the years--my husband. I love the knowledge that real love is possible--something not just on the surface but deeply felt.

And yes (add giggle) I love that I'm now going to tag Ezzie, Wolf, Lion, G6, Harryer, and Sefardi Lady to tell the world about seven things they love.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Cost of Raising a Child, According to the Government

Now we have it straight from the horse's mouth, or at least the government's mouth: it costs a lot to raise a child. The report excludes the cost of a college education. And for frum parents, add in the cost of a yeshiva education through at least 12th grade and further. Add in "mandated" camp costs. Now multiply by the number of children you have or would like to have and stare at the resulting number for a few moments. Scary isn't it? And this number doesn't include any expenses that aren't directly related to child raising. And it doesn't cover any expenses for mom and dad. Robbed any good banks lately?

WASHINGTON, Aug. 4, 2009 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture today released a new report*, Expenditures on Children by Families, finding that a middle-income family with a child born in 2008 can expect to spend about $221,190 ($291,570 when adjusted for inflation) for food, shelter, and other necessities to raise that child over the next seventeen years. Issued by USDA each year since 1960, the report is a valuable resource to courts and state governments in determining child support guidelines and foster care payments. For the year 2008, annual child-rearing expenses for a middle-income, two-parent family ranges from $11,610 to $13,480, depending on the age of the child.

The report by USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion notes that family income affects child rearing costs. A family earning less than $56,870 per year can expect to spend a total of $159,870 (in 2008 dollars) on a child from birth through high school. Similarly, parents with an income between $56,870 and $98,470 can expect to spend $221,190; and a family earning more than $98,470 can expect to spend $366,660. In 1960, a middle-income family could have expected to spend $25,230 ($183,509 in 2008 dollars) to raise a child through age seventeen. Housing costs are the single largest expenditure on a child, averaging $69,660 or 32 percent of the total cost over seventeen years. Food and child care/education (for those with the expense) were the next two largest expenses, each averaging 16 percent of the total expenditure.

The estimates do not include the cost of childbearing or the cost of a college education.

In addition, some current-day costs, such as child care, were negligible in 1960. The report notes geographic variations in the cost of raising a child, with expenses the highest for families living in the urban Northeast, followed by the urban West and urban Midwest. Families living in the urban South and rural areas have the lowest child-rearing expenses.

USDA also plans to soon release an update of the Cost of Raising a Child Calculator, an online, interactive version of its annual report on Expenditures on Children by Families, which makes the figures more easily accessible to the public. To use the Calculator, people can enter the age(s) and number of children they have, whether the household consists of a married couple or a single parent, region of residence, and overall household income. The Calculator will then compute the average dollar amount the family is estimated to spend on their child or children and compare it to the national average cost of raising a child. Click here to view/download the full report*, Expenditures on Children by Families.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Problem With Going Away....

There is one downside to going away: you have to come home. And arriving home there seems to be no transition period to allow you to gradually resume regular living. A major inanimate object decided to commit partial suicide while we were gone--my car. Granted, at well over 100,000 miles its demise was going to come sooner than later, but why now?! So day one at home is going to be finding me a car but pronto.

I'm glad we had a really restful week before this because I have the feeling I'm going to need all the stored up energy I can summon up. Four email accounts, and over 1300 messages to go through, even if most of them are going to be deleted unread. An empty larder. Laundry up the wazoo. Work that school would like done yesterday. And no posts waiting in the scheduled file. Yup, our vacation is already settling in as a nice memory, but here comes real life, ready or not.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

They Named It What?!!!

Shakespeare posed the question: "What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Perhaps in many cases, but not all. If where you are raised has something to do with your destiny--and some people believe it does--then there are some places in the US that I'd rather not have deciding that destiny. To say the least, the place names are strange, or maybe weird or just plain nuts, in some cases.

Herewith some of those strange city names. I know they are real places, but why would anyone name a city like these?

Alabama: Burnt Corn, Muck City
Alaska: Dead Horse, Nightmute
Arizona: Bumble Bee, Chloride, Show Low, Two Guns, Why
Arkansas: Experiment, Greasy Corner, Possum Grape, Toad Suck, Turkey Scratch
California: Badwater, Bivalve, Clapper Gap, Doghouse Junction, Frying Pan, Hellhole Palms, Sucker Flat, Yreka Zzyzx
Colorado: Hygiene, Parachute
Connecticut: Moosup, Delaware Blue Ball
Florida: Sopchoppy, Two Egg
Georgia: Between, Snapfinger, Hawaii Papa, Idaho Beer Bottle Crossing
Illinois: Normal, Roachtown
Indiana: French Lick, Gnaw Bone, Spraytown, Toad Hop
Iowa: Diagonal, Gravity, What Cheer
Kansas: Admire, Buttermilk, Gas
Kentucky: Bugtussle, Crummies, Hand Shoe, Monkey's Eyebrow, Possum Trot, Typo
Louisiana: Belcher, Dry Prong, Tickfaw, Waterproof
Maine: Bald Head, Beans Corner Bingo
Maryland: Accident, Boring, Secretary
Massachusetts: Belchertown, Cow Yard, Sandwich
Michigan: Bad Axe, Hell, Pigeon, Podunk, Slapneck
Minnesota: Embarrass, Fertile, Nowthen
Mississippi: Askew, Hot Coffee, Possumneck, Tie Plant
Missouri: Humansville, Licking, Peculiar, Roach, Tightwad
Montana: Hungry Horse, Square Butt, Two-dot
Nebraska: Colon, Roach, Worms (heck of a combo there)
Nevada: New Hampshire Berlin, Grape Corner, Pahrump, Sandwich Landing
New Jersey: Bivalve, Cheesequake, Good Intent, Little Egg Harbor
New Mexico: Tingle, Truth or Consequences
New York: Cat Elbow Corners, Result, Yaphank Yonkers
North Carolina: Bat Cave, Bunlevel, Gum Neck, Tick Bite, Whynot
North Dakota: Concrete, Zap
Ohio: Blue Ball, Climax, Knockemstiff, Three Legs Town
Oklahoma: Bowlegs, Happy Land, Kremlin, Pumpkin Center
Oregon: Boring, Drain,, Idiotville, Sodaville, Zig Zag
Pennsylvania: Bath Addition, Corner Store, Fear Not, Intercourse, Loyalsockville, Panic
Rhode Island: Mooseup Valley, Quidnick, Woonsocket
South Carolina: Due West, North, South of the Border, (someone get them a compass please!)
South Dakota: Igloo, Parade, Potato Creek, Red Shirt
Tennessee: Nameless, Only, Static
Texas: Cut -n- Shoot, Ding Dong, Dime Box, Looneyville, Oatmeal, Uncertain
Utah: Plain City, Vermont Bread Loaf, Mosquitoville,Notown,Moscow,Satans Kingdom
Virginia: Croaker, Cuckoo, Fourway (2 of them), Fries,Frogtown,Goochland, Lick Skillet
Washington: Humptulips, Index
West Virginia: Big Chimney, Big Ugly, Left Hand,
Wisconsin: Embarrass, Footville, Imalone, Spread Eagle, Ubet, Wanderoos
Wyoming: Muddy Gap, Point of Rocks

Monday, August 10, 2009

Liber Gallus Domesticus

One of the sub-species of fowl is known as chicken, Gallus domesticus in Latin. But, as is common for all living species, chickens are also known by two names which indicate their sex: a female chicken is a hen, and a male chicken is called a rooster or cock. Also common when discussing a species is a name for the young of that species. Young chickens are called a chick (male or female), pullet (young hen), or cockerel (young rooster).

A slang idiom in common usage is "chick lit." Now, idioms should not be read literally. "Chick lit" is not books written for baby chickens. What the idiom vaguely refers to is literature with some relationship to females. According to The Dictionary of Slang, a chick is "a female. The term is considered offensive by many females." (Note on the offensive: Yes, I find it offensive. If you're going to categorize a female as some type of chicken could you at least make that an adult chicken?!!!) In common usage the term is not used to describe an infant, nor to describe a clearly older/elderly woman. It is reserved for those in the late teen through 30s group.

In actual usage, "chick lit" is applied to a specific type of literature as well as being used as a derogatory term for literature that is not mainstream or literature that is sub-standard. When used as referring to a specific type of literature it "denotes genre fiction written for and marketed to young women, especially single, working women in their twenties and thirties. Chick lit features hip, stylish female protagonists, usually in their twenties and thirties, in urban settings (usually London or Manhattan), and follows their love lives and struggles in business (often in the publishing, advertising, public relations or fashion industry). The books usually feature an airy, irreverent tone and frank sexual themes." A NY Times reviewer gave an example of "chick lit," although he referenced a television show as the example. He said that the show "Sex and the City," had it been a novel instead of a tv show, would be the perfect example of "chick lit."

A while back, on one of the shidduch blogs, a posting and subsequent comments were centered around the idea of "chick lit." And what was primarily thrown around as an example of a book that is "chick lit"? Anything and everything written by Jane Austen and the Brontes. Aaaargh!!!! Since none of these works fit the straight definition of what "chick lit" is as far as content and style goes, I can only assume that the term was being used to denigrate the works as being sub-standard literature, literature fit only for "hens," as opposed to "real" people. You know, "girly" books. What is more macabre is that the author of the post and some of the commenters were and are English majors, female English majors.

It is hard enough today to get people to read anything at all, never mind good literature. The cause is not helped by tossing around the slang term "chick lit." What's logically next? A type of literature known as "Cockerel Crowings"? Or maybe "Testosterone Tomes"?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

On Being a Name, Not a Number

Long ago someone made a comment on a blog (not even sure if it was here or not) about how it was so much easier and so much more logical the way Brooklyn, Queens and most Manhattan streets mostly use numbers in straight numerical order to name the streets with (and the alphabet as well in Brooklyn). Well, yes and no. Anyone who has had to drive in Queens may wonder about 69th Street, 69th Road, 69th Avenue, 69th Place, not necessarily parallel, intersecting each other here and there and interspersed with named streets in addition. But here is the thing about those numbered streets--they are boring. Yes, B-O-R-I-N-G!

Staten Island gives names to its streets. The residents here seem to find where they have to go just fine. Mostly it is "auslanders" who have trouble initially. For them, may I recommend a good GPS. I like that the streets have names. They give a flavor to the neighborhood that plain "14th Street" just can't match.

Over my years of teaching I have given many an assignment dealing with place names. For one fourth grade, where the introduction to US geography was taking place, the students researched and found out why each state has the name it does. For a unit on "What's our neighborhood?" we researched and learned about the local place names.

There is one location here in SI whose name is pronounced "toad hill," "tote hill," "tot hill," "toe dill" and other variations on these. The actual place is spelled Todt Hill. So, who or what is it named for? I got some obvious, top of the head answers, based on the pronunciation. "It must have had a lot of toads on it." "It must be a place where children (tots) play."

What's the answer? "Todt Hill is a small mountain ridge. At 410 feet in height, it is the highest natural point in the five boroughs of New York City.In addition, it is the highest point on the eastern seaboard of the United States south of Maine. The name Todt comes from the Dutch word for "dead" and refers to the cemetery (the present Moravian Cemetery) on the southwestern foot of the ridge near the village of New Dorp that has been in use since colonial days." Yup, nowhere near as boring as "Avenue J."

But there's more. SI lays claim to two more elevated areas. There's Emerson Hill as well. And where did it's name come from? "The hill is named for Judge William Emerson--oldest brother of Ralph Waldo Emerson--who lived with his wife, Susan, and children William, Haven and Charles in a long brown shingle house known as The Snuggery. Willie and Haven were tutored in 1843 by Henry David Thoreau, who lived with the Emersons from May through October. It was the only time in his adult life that Thoreau lived anywhere but Concord, Massachusetts....In 1971, two large Tudor homes at the end of Longfellow Avenue served as Casa Corleone for the filming of Francis Ford Coppola's classic movie The Godfather."

And then we have Grymes Hill. Grymes Hill is the second highest point on SI, being 310 feet in height. " The hill is named after Suzette Bosque Grymes, the widow of Louisiana's first governor, William Charles Cole Claiborne, who settled on Staten Island in 1836 (she had remarried a prominent New Orleans lawyer, John R. Grymes, after Governor Claiborne died in 1817.)" The tip top of the hill also happens to be the home of the Staten Island campus of St. John's University, and gave me an experience I would so much rather have never had. The view from the campus is normally breath taking, offering a panoramic view of NY Harbor and of lower Manhattan. And on 9/11 it gave those of us on campus a full view of the second plane hitting the Twin Towers.

So go ahead, talk about the utility of a numbered street system--we'll keep ours, thank you.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Did You Just Say What I Think You Said?

I love the English language, even if there are times that I can't understand why parts of it are the way they are. Thanks to Stanford for posting this from one of my favorite authors. (

Richard Lederer

English is weird.

In the rigid expressions that wear tonal grooves in the record of our
language, beck can appear only with call, cranny with nook, hue with
cry, main with might, fettle only with fine, aback with taken,
caboodle with kit, and spic and span only with each other. Why must
all shrifts be short, all lucre filthy, all bystanders innocent, and
all bedfellows strange? I'm convinced that some shrifts are lengthy
and that some lucre is squeaky clean, and I've certainly met guilty
bystanders and perfectly normal bedfellows.

Why is it that only swoops are fell? Sure, the verbivorous William
Shakespeare invented the expression "one fell swoop," but why can't
strokes, swings, acts, and the like also be fell? Why are we allowed
to vent our spleens but never our kidneys or livers? Why must it be
only our minds that are boggled and never our eyes or our hearts? Why
can't eyes and jars be ajar, as well as doors? Why must aspersions
always be cast and never hurled or lobbed?

Doesn't it seem just a little wifty that we can make amends but never
just one amend; that no matter how carefully we comb through the
annals of history, we can never discover just one annal; that we can
never pull a shenanigan, be in a doldrum, eat an egg Benedict, or get
a jitter, a willy, a delirium tremen, or a heebie-jeebie; and that,
sifting through the wreckage of a disaster, we can never find just one

Indeed, this whole business of plurals that don't have matching
singulars reminds me to ask this burning question, one that has
puzzled scholars for decades: If you have a bunch of odds and ends and
you get rid of or sell off all but one of them, what do you call that
doohickey with which you're left?

What do you make of the fact that we can talk about certain things and
ideas only when they are absent? Once they appear, our blessed English
doesn't allow us to describe them. Have you ever seen a horseful
carriage or a strapful gown? Have you ever run into someone who was
combobulated, sheveled, gruntled, chalant, plussed, ruly, gainly,
maculate, pecunious, or peccable? Have you ever met a sung hero or
experienced requited love? I know people who are no spring chickens,
but where, pray tell, are the people who are spring chickens? Where
are the people who actually would hurt a fly? All the time I meet
people who are great shakes, who can cut the mustard, who can fight
City Hall, who are my cup of tea, and whom I would touch with a
ten-foot pole, but I can't talk about them in English -- and that is a
laughing matter.

If the truth be told, all languages are a little crazy. As Walt
Whitman might proclaim, they contradict themselves. That's because
language is invented, not discovered, by boys and girls and men and
women, not computers. As such, language reflects the creative and
fearful asymmetry of the human race, which, of course, isn't really a
race at all. That's why six, seven, eight, and nine change to sixty,
seventy, eighty, and ninety, but two, three, four, and five do not
become twoty, threety, fourty, and fivety. That's why first degree
murder is more serious than third degree murder but a third degree
burn is more serious than a first degree burn. That's why we can turn
lights off and on but not out and in. That's why we wear a pair of
pants but, except on ery cold days, not a pair of shirts. That's why
we can open up the floor, climb the walls, raise the roof, pick up the
house, and bring down the house.

In his essay "The Awful German Language," Mark Twain spoofs the
confusion engendered by German gender by translating literally from a
conversation in a German Sunday school book: "Gretchen. Wilhelm, where
is the turnip? Wilhelm. She has gone to the kitchen. Gretchen. Where
is the accomplished and beautiful English maiden? Wilhelm. It has gone
to the opera." Twain continues: "A tree is male, its buds are female,
its leaves are neuter; horses are sexless, dogs are male, cats are
female -- tomcats included."

Still, you have to marvel at the unique lunacy of the English
language, in which your house can simultaneously burn up and burn
down, in which you fill in a form by filling out a form, in which you
add up a column of figures by adding them down, in which your alarm
clock goes off by going on, in which you are inoculated for measles by
being inoculated against measles, and in which you first chop a tree
down -- and then you chop it up.

[(c) 1996 Richard Lederer]

Monday, August 3, 2009

And Then There Was Conversation

Bad4Shidduchim has a post up about the problems of dating someone who does not speak during a date or resorts to one word answers.

My mother likes to say that I didn't come out of the womb crying; I came out talking. Being a talker and having observed a lot of other people as regards speaking, I'd like to offer the following, which might clarify a bit some of the puzzlement expressed on the bad4 comments.

Almost all people are born with the ability to produce speech, that is, the physical ability. However, not all people are particularly partial to exercise this ability in all situations at all times.

I believe that we can divide people into six basic categories as regards speaking.

#1: Will talk to anyone, anywhere, on any topic, at any time. This person so loves talking that he/she mostly does not require that a partner in a "conversation" do more than nod their head or say "uhhmmm" occasionally. This person may not even realize that the conversation going on is very lopsided, nor do they particularly mind. They are looking for a good listener, not a conversational equal. We see those people often in a classroom. A question is barely out of an instructor's mouth and that person's hand is shot in the air and the answer is already being fired back. Fixing such a person up with another person who is also a level one talker is not a comfortable dating situation; both sides are talking but no one is listening.

#2: This person shares the quality with #1 of being able to talk, and talk, and talk, but unlike #1, this happens only when they can do so about a particular interest or subject. Present them with something that they care about and they can talk up a storm. Present them with something that doesn't much interest them and they flip to being listeners or one-word answerers. The key to a successful date with such a person is to know or find out what the particular, special interests are and get them talking about those. Of course, if the other person on the date doesn't particularly care for the subject, and goes to change it to something else, the first person may become mostly mute.

#3: This person is neither quiet nor talkative. He/she has pretty much mastered the art of polite social conversation, going beyond one word answers, but not all that much beyond. They know what the neutral topics are that may be discussed on a date, and they discuss them. But deep conversation is not something they are comfortable with when faced with a stranger. They are polite conversationalists rather than enthusiastic ones. In a classroom, these people will answer when called upon but do not raise their hands. It will take a while for this type of talker to feel comfortable enough with someone else to raise the level of conversation out of the banal and the mundane.

#4: This person is the born listener. He/she would far rather hear others speak than speak. These types of speakers don't like leading a conversation, nor actually being an active participant in one. This does not mean that they are not taking in everything that is said, examining it and ruminating on it. It does mean that the other person in this "conversation" is going to have to carry the ball, with little or no input from our listener.

Now we come to two broad categories, of which the first four mentioned are part.

#5: Males. Yes, your sex can determine how or when you are comfortable speaking, with whom, and on what topic. Watch a group of young men in conversation and you will notice that they tend to get physical when they talk. Greetings are accompanied by back slaps. Points may be emphasized with arm punches. Even among friends they tend to talk at each other or around each other rather than engaging in steady eye contact, in your face conversation. They tend to take verbal shortcuts, such as "you know what I mean" rather than going into deep explanations. [Keep in mind that I am talking about social situations, not learning ones.] They are not as adept at reading non-verbal cues as females are (or maybe care less about them)--things like body posture or facial expressions. Mostly they don't worry about whether their male friends are having a good time during a conversation. If they are bored they say so or they leave the conversation. They don't particularly worry about the tone of their voice; it is what it is. It is relatively rare to find a group of young men having a quiet conversation; they tend to be more on the boisterous side, on the louder side. A whole lot of these young and not-so-young males find conversation with females a difficult endeavor. They are generally aware, perhaps from seeing their sisters and their friends, that females seem to speak differently, but they haven't really grasped how. They may modify what type of speaker they actually are when faced with conversation with a female: a #1 speaker may hold back being unsure if his regular mode of speaking will be acceptable.

#6: Females are rather interesting because they have more than one style of speaking. They have the in the public eye among strangers mode, the in the public eye with a friend mode, in private among semi-strangers mode and the in private among friends mode. In all but the last mode, and sometimes even there, they are controlled speakers. They modulate their physical movement during conversation. They tend to make eye contact when speaking to all but strangers whom they will never see again. They modulate the pitch and tone of their voices. Some of this is cultural: loud, boisterous women were met with disapproval for most of history and still are in many sub-cultures today. Many frum girls would consider it un-tsniusdik to call attention to themselves through their speaking. Many females are emotive speakers: they speak of feelings, not just ideas or things. Unlike the males, females generally have an idea of how males communicate, since they are, many of them, keen observers. In addition, polite society has always relied on the female to take care of social etiquette.

Now, how does all this relate to speaking on dates? Perhaps instead of some of the real narishkeit that is asked about a prospective date what is needed is a speech assessment survey. Have someone fill out a form that delves into conversational habits in depth. The boy who loves to talk and talk is going to need a good listener, not a good talker. The girl who doesn't really like being at the forefront of a conversation is going to need a boy who, frankly, can't shut up. The girl who loves to talk and talk is also going to need a real listener. Being honest about your speaking habits could help to avoid some of the dating silences that some people find so painful.

I've seen this in real life. The first boy that one of my daughters went out with was absolutely not a talker. My daughter refused a second date. She basically talked to herself all night. The young man (with all kinds of wonderful qualities otherwise) was finally set up with the right kind of girl for him. The young woman happened to be a former classmate of said daughter's. What everyone in the class knew was that this young woman LOVED to talk, she was a level #1 talker, at the head of the group. Yes, this couple got married. He made the perfect foil for her, and she made him relax because he had no responsibility to initiate conversation.

Recognizing that there are real speech and speaking differences among people, some of which may change upon deeper, further acquaintance, some of which won't, might just help to make for better dates.

Off We Go...

We're leaving tomorrow out to LV for a week. Hopefully our dream house will materialize faster than our present house is selling. Stay well all, and don't do anything I wouldn't do (which leaves you all with a lot of leeway!).

I'm leaving a few postings to pop up here and there just in case anyone is desperate for reading matter. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Geometric Misconfiguration

The model most in use when discussing Judaism is a linear one, literally. We tend to think of Judaism as if it were a line, with a left, middle and right. We discuss groupings of Jews according to where they fall on this line. We talk about the Ultra Right, the Centrist, the Ultra Left. So, do we really fit that linear model? Is it useful? Does it skew or help our thinking?

Let's say we have a line of two inches in length. Mathematically the center or mid point of a line divides the line into two equal halfs, with just as much line to the right as there is to the left of this mid point. Now what if our line got longer? What if we added two more inches to the right of the line? Where would the center now be? Mathematically, it doesn't matter whether you draw the two extra inches on the right or on the left or in the middle; the midpoint is going to fall exactly centered. So, in order for there to be a left and a right on that line, there must be a central dividing point. This is not, however, how things seem to be working in Klal. There have been numerous additions to the right of that original center, but those groups added keep the old center point, thus pointing out that they are more numerous than those center to left. Unfortunately, social historians can point out that the "inches" being added to the line are more numerous all the way to the left. So argument after argument takes place about where the center really is and how long the line really is on either side of that center point. And while we argue who is the center, or central, nothing gets done but arguing.

I believe it would be of more use to us to choose a different geometric figure: the circle. Points on a line can see themselves as disconnected from other points on that line; they can see themselves heading in different directions, left or right. On a circle all points are connected; they, together, form an enclosed, united figure. Yes, the circle can grow bigger or smaller, but it still remains a circle. There is no left or right. We are all members of Klal Yisroel, part of the circle. Whatever differences we have, we share a commonality: we are Jews. The world sees us all that way: it is we who have trouble doing so. There is also a fixed centrality to the center point of a circle; no matter how large or how small the circle gets, the center point remains the same. And no part of a circle's circumference, by definition, is closer to the center point than another, nor further away from it.

It's very easy in an argument to throw out "That's right wing shtuss" or "That's left wing shtuss." And what have we really said? What have we added to the argument? What facts have we presented? NONE. If we take away the terms of a line--left, center, right--we might just get a discussion going.