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My book of the week: talk about blasphemy!

Not great. My list seems so much more ambitious than I thought.  Some things I’ve done:

  • Because of a cold, for almost a week I drank endless cups and pots of herbal teas and infusions, meaning, I got plenty of water.  Now, not so much.
  • Sleep – still averaging 5-ish hours. Not good at all.  The discovery of late-night Star Trek TNG on this odd Christian cable TV channel has me mesmerized.  I love the show, it’s never on here, and I find it so incredibly strange that it’s METV that airs it.  I’m sure it’s a “recruiting tactic” – they’re also the only channel broadcasting American football, and quite a lot of it – rare and popular pastimes for certain populations.  I wonder if they actually know what they’re broadcasting – the futuristic Star Trek world is yes, quite an optimistic one, but the show regularly presents messages of tolerance (thinly veiled themes on gay rights and euthanasia come to mind) – basic respect for acceptance of the traditions and values of other cultures, whether or not we agree with them.  Things I feel that evangelicals clearly oppose.  It’s a very liberal show.  Squeezed between shows like the 700 Club, Harvest, and Christian rock shows, it’s so entirely bizarre for me, a firm and unwavering atheist, to watch.  This channel has these shows where a Christian “psychic” talks to spirits of dead family members in front of a studio audience.  There’s even a show geared to converting Jews, with a host who is a formerly-Jewish, now devout Christian evangelical, spinning the gospel for the “chosen people.”  Anthropology.  All I can say.  I’m happy for TNG.  Not sure it’s OK that I’m patronizing them.

    This kiss between Riker and the self-identified female “degenerate mutant” from a gender-less species.

  • I have, however, been seeing friends – twice per week is realistic, and as it’s emotionally quite pressing, it seems to be a high priority for me.
  • I went on a date. I thought it went very well, but I may have received the brush off.  Waiting.  It’s OK, life goes on.  The effort is important.
  • I read a whole novel in excellent speed – fantastic feeling. Though not really my cup of tea, I’d been putting off reading the cult-classic, Good Omens.  Was a nice way to pass the weekend.
  • Creativity and culture – I have made a concerted effort to stop and notice the art displayed in the windows of the galleries in my area, and I did actually attend a group exhibition opening a couple weeks ago.  I’ve been thinking about pulling out my clarinet – back in high school I wasn’t a bad player, and I did bring my excellent Buffet Festival with me when I moved to Israel.  AND I DID PAINT! Last week I got out a bunch of expensive Italian ink I purchased years ago, made lovingly with things like real gold flake, and I found a box of old thick “panda” oil pastels of my grandfather’s, a prominent Israeli artist until his death 11 years ago.  All shades of his favorite color – blue.  Here are some of the results, taken on a crappy camera phone.

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    A sort of water-soaked inky gouache, and a pointillism landscape made with an incomplete set of crayola markers, inspired by the “International Naive and Primitive Art Gallery” near me. You can’t see the gold flake on the left, but it’s pretty cool up close. And yes, the inks came complete with a quill – very difficult to use, hence I abandoned it.

  • Bills – not being paid. Weird.  I have the money.  I can’t open the mail – it’s overwhelming. It’s quite urgent. And pressing on me.  Psychological oddity with me, also keeps me from cleaning my room for months.  Though I make a decent effort on the house, the kitchen, public things, some other tasks are near impossible to internalize.
  • I’ve been pretty successful at shutting the computer at night and not thinking of work, so I’m proud of myself in that respect.  I do need to move forward on expanding my professional goals.

So there is the update.  A rather mundane blog entry, but as I felt I needed to keep up the writing momentum, here it is in all its glorious dullness.

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Dear Readers,

I have not written in an eternity.  For a while, I knew it was the right decision.  Life was overwhelming, so much so, that keeping up a blog was becoming more of a guilty burden than an outlet for self-expression and the exchange of ideas.  However, the last few months revealed an interesting symptom: my facebook and twitter status updates became longer, more complex, resembling compositions, carefully, artfully, lovingly crafted. Word art in 140 characters or less. A clear sign I needed to actually do some real writing.  The potential subject matters have also become overwhelming – what to write about?  Where should I start?  So I’m going to jump.  Bear with me, dear reader.

Riojan Revelations

I took myself on vacation to Spain in September.  I won’t go into details except to say – visit Basque Country.  The best food, gorgeous landscape, and the kindest people you’d ever want to meet.  You wouldn’t think it – it’s not a sexy place – but there is a subtle grandeur, an old world Europe elegance, with a fascinating and often sad history, that doesn’t want to draw attention to itself.  Besides, Riojan wine country is literally next door (and culturally related), there are Europe’s loveliest beaches, and you can even go surfing if you dare to face those cold waters.

I always keep a journal when I travel extensively.  I buy a leather bound volume or two and invest in a good pen.  As I travel alone, it keeps me sane, gives me purpose, gives me distraction when needed.  It’s not easy just being with yourself and only with yourself without a routine – travel for me is a kind of meditation – extremely difficult at first, but when you get into the rhythm, the benefits are infinite.  By the end of the trip, I felt more like myself in years.  

My main revelation: who I am.  I never had a calling, never knew I had to be a surgeon or a ballerina.  And that practicality in college or slightly after never kicked in – I didn’t enlist in law school or business school or find an interesting sector to devote my life to some sort of desk.  I am not unique in this.  Whatever the decisions of the people in my generation, there is an clear sense of ennui.  Books and research and articles about “the quarterlife crisis” and the downfalls of having too many choices leading to major anxiety and crippling indecision, abounded.  In many ways, I have been a leaf.  That image of Forrest Gump’s leaf has remained ingrained in my memory.  Though I’ve had a stable job for a year and a half, in a sector I devoted 4 years to in some semblance or another, my mind, heart, “soul,” self, is not that professional person.  I love so much of what I do.  I threw all of my energy, sacrificing my health sometimes, to the company, to the mission, for the benefit of wine culture in Israel.  I’m very lucky to have this in my life.  But this is not my raison d’etre.  This is not my life.  It is not worth my health or the majority of hours in the week.  The time has come to go back to “me.”  It probably won’t make me money.  But I’m dying inside sometimes from the lack of time and attention to who it really is that I am.

(Goodness doesn’t this sound like the introduction to some sappy self-help novel! Don’t worry, I’m not selling anything, and I don’t think I’ll ever be a happy-go-luck person…)

This will sound stupid, and I even felt it to be so stupid as I wrote in my journal on my last day in San Sebastian while drinking a too-sweet cafe con leche and nibbling on a tortilla pintxo (a Spanish omelet placed on top of a too-small slice of baguette, speared with a toothpick), that I wrote down that this was embarrassingly stupid to be writing.  It’s so far-fetched. It’s such a grandiose word, that I feel I’m being an arrogant sophist for thinking such a thought.  But the word felt right, and it wouldn’t go away.  Words are powerful.  Now I’ve always felt kind of OK calling myself a thinker, or a person who likes to think, who often (or at best occasionally these days) wrote.  What I am, what I have always been, is a philosopher.  When I wrote that down, I felt good.  I am in such awe at that word – pictures of brilliant pipe-smoking tweed-clad professors and long-dead robe-wrapped Greeks come to mind.  So you can understand how silly I feel calling myself such a word.  

On a daily basis, I have all-encompassing “thinking spells.” I am an incurable daydreamer.  When seen in children it seems sweet and creative and fanciful until or unless it interrupts schoolwork or other such responsible tasks.  In adults, it’s perceived as a wishy-washy hippie impractical waste of a thing to do.  I can’t help it.  Overpowering ideas flow, and I stop, and I let them wash into me.  For minutes, for hours, on and off over the course of days sometimes.  It gives me great pleasure to think.  To roll thoughts and facts and theories over and over in my mind, connecting the dots, creating fascinating conclusions.  For example, yesterday, I entertained an imaginary conversation with an old acquaintance from college about the earliest origins of marriage, land-ownership, violence and the current socioeconomic state.  My greatest pain – that I don’t have anyone to talk to about these things.  Perhaps it’s why so many of my mental wanderings take the form of dialogues, either with people I have known, or people I respect, whether they be perfect strangers or even long-dead.  I’ve been labeled strange, an oddity, and I don’t mind that. But not to be listened to.  Not fun.  And I fear that my wits have dulled without this practice. I feel that I sometimes reject the thought pattern building up, and distract myself with television, games, food, alcohol, cleaning, gardening, and most of all – work – not entirely unhealthy, but it borders on it.  It’s why it was particularly heartbreaking not to have been accepted into a doctoral program a couple years ago.  I knew my application was hurried and weakly presented, but I still had hoped it would be enough.  

My conclusion in Spain: let it be.  It’s more difficult than it sounds.  Like meditating.  Like anything worth doing in life – it takes discipline in order to build a healthy habit.  My goal is to begin writing these thoughts down, as I have in the past.  Beyond that, I feel I need to at least try to publish something formally.  It won’t take the place of a regular discourse, but it will affirm I’m not crazy.  There’s a particular treatise on ecology, the environment, and economics that I’ve been meaning to get out of my system for over three years.  Perhaps sending these ideas into the world will negate my new self-identity – there is a danger that I will discover I’ve never had an even slightly original idea in my life.  But I need to take that chance. Exploring the writing of others, extensively, in order to better informed, is never bad. It’s always fruitful.  Thinking is always better than not thinking.  I need not be ashamed of that.  I need to embrace it, whether or not anyone understands me or cares.

I will leave you with a treat! Photos of some incredible home-libraries that have been popping up on my facebook stream all week.  I am desperate for something like this in my home.  A respite for the soul.  It’s ever so much easier to be productive and comfortable in one’s own skin when surrounded by a beautiful, functional environment. Squishy armchair required.  Fireplace optional.  Thank you for reading.

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Saint Paul's Cathedral during the London Blitz

I have gotten to the point where I cannot distinguish one day from another.  I didn’t realize it was Thursday – I only knew I had to be at work at 12 pm and that there was a lecture about Connie Willis‘s heroes at 9 pm at the Olamot Science Fiction and Fantasy Festival (sponsored by the Tolkien Society of Israel and the Israeli Science Fiction and Fantasy Guild).  I went.  It was the most normal thing I did this month, which is really saying something as a larger collection of fashion-clueless, absurdly costumed geeks I haven’t seen in a long time.  Tomorrow is the first day off in over a week.  The next day I work at 12 pm.  The next day I have a doctor’s appointment.  That’s how it goes.

Why have I become this clueless zombie?  Work and Passover.  We all complain about work.  Yet, I don’t hate what I do.  It’s just quite physically taxing, and my hours are long.  It can be demoralizing being a glorified waitress sometimes, but I’m getting over it.  I hope.  I’m quite proud of myself, I do have to admit.  It’s Passover, and pre-holiday wine sales are madness.  Wine sales the day before and of Passover are the highest of the year.  In fact I think most of the wine in the country is sold in those few days – but don’t quote me – I would need to find the stats.  In any case, I played my part admirably.  My sales for my winery were beyond fantastic, and for the most part, I had a great time.  Along with the wine bar work, I believe I worked I worked 45 hours in 4 days.  The haze I’m in is interesting.  The meaning of life, or rather, the search thereof, eludes me these days.  I don’t feel like reading at all.  I feel like I’m floating and not quite living.  Things like bills and taxes can wait, and I’m glad I’m not freaking…but this zombie phase has got to end.  Soon.  I want to look forward to reading a book, seeing friends with any sort of regularity, putting at least some attention into my studies (which I’ve basically abandoned for the last 3 weeks due to exhaustion), and perhaps…career, men, the future…and especially not feeling tired all the time.  Just realized it’s kind of ironic – my working like a dog, really slaving (worked a real 16+ hour day for the first time in forever) during THE holiday that celebrates freedom from bondage.  Yep.  Just my luck.

For the moment, I’m glad I did something other than sleep, watch reruns of Extreme Home Makeover (artificially-enduced emotional catharsis), and work.  It was weird paying 30 shekels for a 50 minute presentation on my favorite author that basically turned into a conversation with the audience of 20 that veered off at one point to Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel.  Yeah.  My kind of people.  I have to say, it was worth it to sit in a room with several others who had read, not even just heard of, Connie Willis, in Israel.  I adore Willis, and everyone who loves a good long read should pick up both Black Out and All Clear.  Especially if you’re a WWII buff.  It’s heartfelt storytelling crossed with extraordinary research – historical science fiction at its very, very best.

The bar at the corner of my street is playing dance/trans music so loud, I can feel the bass through the floor.  I live on the fourth floor.  And I’m at least 5 buildings down.  I don’t even play my own music this loud (relatively speaking – as it now sounds in my home).  Ugh.  Popcorn, green tea, and Extreme Home Makeover may be in the cards tonight.  Oh well.  I’ll have to find earphones first.  No rest for the weary.

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I have to admit, I adore being back in grad school.  Most of the time I don’t see it, don’t feel it, but when I’m in class, I feel like I’m on fire.  Tearing apart literature, analyzing every obscure little bit, my mind goes reeling, making connections to books I read a decade ago, favorite television shows, contemporary political issues, and Greek epics, and on, and on.  It’s like being at a banquet.  Not kidding.  It’s just unfortunate that I have to work so hard outside class.  I want to give myself over to study.

This week in my “Inventing the Novel” course, we covered Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.  Embarrassingly enough, I hadn’t read it before, and part of the reason the course itself is so fascinating to me is that its bridging a gap in my literary knowledge; I’m fairly well versed in French literature of the 17th and 18th century, Shakespeare and some Restoration, and of course, some of the great 19th century novels (though not all written in English – some French, and of course, tons Russian).  I think Defoe’s Roxana is the only 18th century English novel I’d read before this course.

Yes, Crusoe made himself a leather/fur umbrella from his kills

Without going into detail, Robinson Crusoe is about an Englishman who is shipwrecked on a desert Island somewhere in the West Indies, and all his trials and tribulations, from the practical elements of survival, to psychological and spiritual transcendence.  It was a fun read, if not more than a bit tedious in the middle with all the God stuff which for me right now is not worth going into.  Delightful are the adventures of salvaging anything and everything off a sinking ship, building a fortress,  and (for me, especially) finding food.

It seems that throughout the 28 years of Crusoe’s tenure on the island, over 90% of his food was meat.  He is described as going on hunting walks every morning.  He must have killed hundreds of water fowl, native sorts of (who knows) chickens and geese, turtles, native goats, and who knows what else.  Eventually he tames a few goats and has his own milk and fresh stash of ready-to-slaughter meat in the back yard.  In the beginning the guy eats a lot of “cakes,” some sort of dried biscuit rations salvaged from the ship – which miraculously last him several years.  He drinks rum (also from the ship) every once in a while.  I think he salvaged a cheese or two, too.  Miraculously (or perhaps not – why blame Providence for everything), he accidentally scatters a tiny bit of chicken feed while emptying a sack, and all of a sudden, he’s got some corn, barley, and even rice.  Over the course of several years, he succeeds in cultivating these crops – but it takes him a while and a lot of perplexed effort to figure out how to make any sort of bread.  What a weirdo.

Cassava

What is shocking to me is how little of the native resources Crusoe uses.  He claims he looked for cassava early on, but didn’t find any, which is utter baloney as it’s ridiculously common, THE staple of the entire region.  There are lots of native fruits and veg, too, some of which are quite obviously fruit and veg – guava, heart of palm, plantains, yucca, tamarind.  This of course is taking into account that Westerners hadn’t visited this island before and brought countless other fruit with them that took to the place quite well with its lush hot wet climate.  And WHERE are the fish?  It’s an island!  The sea is teeming!  Crusoe faces death from starvation while clutching his rifle, when he could be enjoying the seafood at his doorstep.  Apparently the Caribbean is well-known for its lobsters.  The man should literally have been able to walk out the door (or climb over the fort with his ladder), pick a couple guavas and plantains for breakfast and then walk down the beach and check some lobster traps (which he was perfectly able to concoct with the whole carpenter’s workshop he was able to remove from the ship) or he could have picked up some crabs off the beach for his dinner.  I’m sure crabs must scuttle about from time to time.  God!

You gotta wonder about Crusoe’s general health.  He must have had dangerously high cholesterol, constipation, osteoporosis, and perhaps even colon cancer.  And he lived forever!  Ah well.  I’ll give Defoe a break – how hard on him can I be?  How little anyone knew about “the new world” way back when.  At least it was a plausible adventure…not like the lovely film below:

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