Friday, May 23, 2008

The Temple of Technology...my other religion

I continue to marvel at and revel in the wonder of Social Networking. Amazing.

I am part of Generation X. Admittedly and sadly, the older end. I've lived through the end of the Cold War, the demise of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall. I typed my term papers in college. Typed. On a typewriter. Capeesh? I clearly remember the day that, in one of my very first entry level jobs at a tiny ad agency in Manhattan, my boss walked in with a fax machine. Fax machine? My jaw hit the floor. You mean to tell me that I can be holding a piece of paper in my hand, and in minutes, someone else can be holding that same piece of paper? My mouth watered. I worshiped at the throne of technology.

I caught on to computers and the Internet very, very quickly. I was surfing the web in the early nineties and if I worshiped the fax machine, I simply sacrificed myself on the altar of the web. It freaked me out. Those of you who did not grow up with this stuff might remember feeling the wonder of it, and those of you in your twenties are thinking I'm really, really old. By 1993, I was putting together websites, albeit, pretty primitive looking ones. I remember the inception of the very first corporate supersites....when Coke finally put up a website and then Kelloggs. I remember when the only Jewish site on the web was 613.org and the Jewish Communication Network. I remember when songs came in .wav files and when RealAudio came on the scene with streaming technology. Oh yeah, baby, the Stone Age. But I was hooked. My computer-less friends would joke that if you wanted to speak to me, you needed to get one of those stupid email addresses, as I was too busy online to pick up the phone. Silly me. I vividly recall the day in 1993 that the owner of the ad agency I worked for told me that no one had made any money on the Internet and until someone would, he was staying off of it...fads pass. Yeah, he said that.

Flash forward fifteen years. The Internet does everything but rub my shoulders and make me breakfast. I am simply in awe and in love. I work in a technology-related profession and I'm good at it. Technology continues to blow me mind.

Web 2.0 sites are freaking me out. Facebook seems to be expanding and taking over my life. This morning I bought something on Overstock.com, and after I paid for it online (with a gift card that I got for cashing in online credit cards points...the online consumerism wheel goes round and round...), I got a little popup window that offered to post the fact of my purchase on my Facebook page! So now online stores are becoming part of the Facebook universe. How far is it going to go? Of course, I continue to be discovered by old college buddies and ex-boyfriends on Facebook, and continue to be poked and have sheep thrown at me by complete strangers with Indian sounding names. I kick my friends' butts at Scrabulous and like seeing new pictures of my friends' kids (well, I pretend to, anyway). Then there's LinkedIn. My cousin, with whom I have not been in touch since my wedding, found me on LinkedIn, got my New York address, sent me an invitation to his son's wedding, and hooked me up with his best friend who is paying me for some freelance work. LinkedIn seems to be a fertile breeding ground for career opportunities. I recently joined Hi5, only because a friend invited me on and I figured, why not? I love this stuff. I am also watching some colleagues invent professions and careers out of social networking sites and I find what they do fascinating. What comes next?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Time

More and more lately, I have been thinking about change. Shaking things up. Getting the hell out of Dodge. Just not continuing to do the mindless things that I've been doing and doing and doing.

I have been working like a machine for the last few months and thankfully, I've been able to put aside some money. I was supposed to find out this week from Evil Boss on whether or not I am going to have a job through the summer, but of course, she has decided to keep me on the grill a few days longer. If my job ends, I am going on a little vacation. I have not had a real vacation since before my divorce. I hate traveling alone, but I think it's time. Not sure where I'm going to go, but I know that continuing to do nothing but obsess over my loneliness and the time passing by is getting me nowhere but deeper and deeper in the rut. I gotta shake things up. I need to move. I am going to be forsaking about a million responsibilities, but I need go. It's time.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Sefirah Music

Do you listen to music during Sefirah?

I do listen to recorded music during Sefirah. I don't remember which Rav told me it was okay, but what can I say, I do. Apparently there is a halachic distinction between live and recorded music.

I don't consider that to be a ridiculous heter. It is similar to the idea that some hold that kol isha (a man not being allowed to listen to a woman singing) only applies to live singing, rather than recorded singing. Or to the idea that listening to a recording of a shofar blowing does not fulfill the mitzvah of listening to a shofar...you need to hear a live person blowing an actual shofar.

And Sefirah is a different kind of mourning from the Three Weeks (during which I do not listen to any kind of music, recorded or otherwise). So I felt pretty comfortable in my musical heter.

But when my sister-in-law, who is lately my guide to all things Yeshivish, told me that, according to their yeshiva, my nephews are allowed to listen to a capella music only, I thought it was rather silly. Then I asked a halachically-oriented friend about this, and he explained to me that a voice alone is not considered "music;" music is defined by the playing of musical instruments.

Okay, that seems to make sense. But this a capella exception still strikes me as disingenuous. Why? Because in a capella singing, the singers go out of their way to try to make their voices sound just like instruments. And the talented a capella singers are incredibly good at it. Listen to any song done by Rockapella and you will be convinced.

I'm not sure what to do with this and sorta wish I hadn't started thinking about it. I feel like I just need to decide whether I do listen to music in Sefirah or not, and that includes recorded, a capella and anything else. This just strikes me as a prohibitive mitzvah that has been overrun with heters and we have lost sight of what it is really about. The thing is, I really, really like listening to music.

Sigh.

Weight

I am trying for the 3,413rd time to get my weight under control. So under the advice of a friend who just took off 80 lbs., (EIGHTY!!!) I started writing down everything I eat. It's been a fascinating experience and I can see why it is helpful. Geez, I eat a lot. I have already cut down my consumption just based on a new awareness and a real assessment of how much food I have been taking in. I've been doing this for about a week and a half now.

It's also made me aware of how much coffee I've been drinking. Holy crap! I was deluding myself into thinking that I drank about three cups a day. I'm embarrassed to admit, even anonymously, how much I've actually been consuming. I've definitely cut down my coffee intake these last few days.

In the back of the same notebook that I've been recording my food intake, I've been recording how often I've been exercising. I was under the delusion that I've been working out 4-5 times a week. It's actually more like 3 times a week. I am amazed at my capacity to fool myself. I haven't upped the number of times I'm working out, but I have added ten minutes to each workout, so that now I do 3 times at 40 minutes instead of 4 times at 30 minutes.

A few months ago, Nice Jewish Guy gave me some pointers on running that have been helpful. I can't really keep up a sustained run for long periods of time, but I've been trying to do interval running....walking hard for an interval and then running for an interval, etc. It makes the time on the treadmill pass more quickly and it's less exhausting than just pushing myself to run. It gives me more of sweat than just walking and it definitely gets my heart rate up quickly.

We'll see how this goes.

Gas

It now costs me around $60 to fill up my little sedan. I find this almost offensive. I am trying to use my car as little as possible, walking to places within a mile of my house if I can, both for the exercise and because I am trying to be frugal. Either that or I will have to get a second job.

Shell is offering a $25 gift card when you apply for a Shell credit card and purchase 100 gallons of Shell gas within 90 days of opening the account. It sounds like a lot of gas, but it isn't too bad. Say you put 15 gallons in each time you fill up. That means you would have to fill up about 7 times over the course of 3 months to get the gift card...about every two weeks. If you make the first purchase within the first 60 days, you get a $10 bonus rebate credit. There is no annual fee for this card.

The only way to apply for this card is to call 1-800-278-0513. The verbal signup was rather tedious as compared to signing up on the Internet.

I'm not enamored with Shell, so I will probably use this card for three months, get the gift card, use that and then cancel the card.

I've been using Gas Buddy to try to find the lowest priced gas in my area. It's a good site. The problem is that, where I live, even the cheapest gas costs a small fortune.

If you are planning to do any vacationing soon, click here to read about which hotels offer gas rebates back to visitors this summer.

A Day of Learning

I went to a "Yom Iyun" (Day of Learning) given by Mrs. Tzipporah Heller yesterday. As I've said in previous posts, I love Tziporah Heller and her fiery, tell-it-like-it-is teaching style. For this Yom Iyun, she taught five classes from a small podium, with no notes in front of her other than the program's schedule. Once she completed each class, she looked at the schedule, checked to see what the next topic was, retrieved that class from her brain and taught it flawlessly. Her encyclopedic knowledge of Tanach and meforshim is incredible. Her delivery is riveting. When I grow up, I want to be Tziporah Heller.

I hadn't been to a Yom Iyun in a very long time. When I was younger, my community used to have incredible Yom Iyun programs on the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av, so that the fast days would not be wasted lying on couches doing nothing. My age is showing, as I found that sitting through five consecutive classes gets really tiring, even when they are interesting. When I think about what I used to endure in college, well, I just don't know how I did it. Whenever I have a crazy thought about going back to grad school, I need to remind myself that I am an old, tired hag.

After a Tziporah Heller session, I usually walk away with some new insight on Judaism that I don't necessarily like, but I find interesting. This time was no exception. She gave a great class on the Torah approach to difficult relationships. Fascinating stuff. She talked about friends, and about how "v'ahavta l'rayecha camocha" comes into practice when you have to deal with people you don't really like that much. For starters, she said, you need to be honest with yourself and admit to yourself that you don't really like that person so that you can face up to it. Then you need to ask yourself what you can learn from So-and-So even though you don't like him. She said there are reasons that God has us interacting with different types of people and there is almost no one from whom a person couldn't learn something about himself or about the world. I actually agree with this. I do find, though, that interacting with some people is so irritating, it is not worth the self-knowledge gained.

Later on in the class she talked about familial relationships, which fall under an entirely different set of rules from simple friendships. One of the more interesting things that came up was the incredibly unshakable obligation we have to honor our parents. We don't have to love them, which is interesting because we are obligated to love our friends and we are obligated to love God (v'ahavta es Hashem elokecha b'chol levavcha....) but the Torah seems to acknowledges the unpleasant truth that some parents are unlovable. Because they have brought us into this world though, we need to respect them and see to their needs, no matter what the situation. Here was the shocking implication: if your parents physically or sexually abuse you, you may, of course, remove yourself from the danger and physically distance yourself from your parents, but you are still obligated to honor them. We were all blown away by that. This runs completely counter to 21st century secular values. So, as a real-life example, if your parents beat the hell out of you when you were younger or your father molested you, but if either parent needs, say, a medical aide when they are elderly and cannot afford it, you are obligated to pay for one and arrange the care for them. You are not obligated to be near them but you owe them that fealty, simply because they are the ones that brought you into this world.

I used to have a friend from college, Nicky, who was raised in a very strict Catholic home. Her parents beat her repeatedly when she was younger...I'm not talking about spanking, I'm talking about a hanger and a belt....and when they walked in on her 34 year-old uncle molesting her when she was 14, they accused her of being a slut. Oh yes, they were lovely people. Today, she refers to her Dad as "the Sperm Donor" and her M0m as "the Birth Mother" (mostly behind their backs). Nicky's been through therapy and she's surprisingly healthy and well-adjusted, married with a great husband and kids whom she adores and spoils. And yet, once a month or so, she drives out to Connecticut with her family and visits the Sperm Donor and Birth Mother. She sends cards on birthdays and holidays and encourages her kids to have a relationship with them (although she never leaves them there unsupervised). I know she hates what they did to her and will never forgive them, but now that they are elderly, she has chosen to let it go and have some sort of relationship with them, because, after all is said and done, they were her physical conduits into the world. Her words, not mine.

When I am told about parents like this, I am so grateful for my own parents. My Mom is a pill and drives me crazy, but she loves me and has always been incredibly generous and nurturing. My Dad's yahrtzeit is coming up, and when I think about how much I miss him and our relationship, I am overcome with emotion. I owe my unshakable self-esteem to my Mom and Dad. They were far from perfect parents, but they never left me with any doubt about their love for me.

Anyway, back to the Heller Yom Iyun. Last thing that Mrs. Heller tried to impress upon us is that we spend a large portion of our lives telling ourselves that we have so little and need so much. How very true. I probably do that several times a day. She said that we could completely change our lives and and our outlooks if we would sit down one day, make a mental list of everything that is going right in our lives, tell ourselves that really, we have so much and need so little. As she often does, she emphasized the importance of serving God in the here and now, where He has chosen to place us, whether or not it coincides with our own dreams of where we would like to be.

Inspiring, yes. Easy to follow, no. But nothing that is worthwhile is easy, yes?