Thursday, December 30, 2010

Goodbye 2010

As 2011 approaches, it seems like a good time to take a glimpse back at 2010 and think about this past year, and think about what I hope to accomplish next year. The end of 2010 was good for me, but unfortunately the beginning was not quite as great. Though that is sad, I would much prefer it being that way than the other way around. I'd rather have a year that started off bad as long as it ended up good, rather than have a year that started off good and ended up bad. 2010 started off on a pretty bad note for me, as January/February time things were not going so great in my life in general. Part of the reason I started this blog was to explore a different outlet for expressing my thoughts, and it has turned out to be more fun than I thought it would be. I was pretty lost and confused and was generally unhappy and worst of all felt powerless to change things. However, Hashem is in charge of the world, and though things seemed pretty hopeless back in January, I am luckily able to look back now and see how things were for the best and how slowly but surely the year turned around. Sometimes you just never know why things aren't going the way you want them to, but sometimes if you are fortunate then retrospect lets you see things you couldn't see when you were in the moment.

Despite my bad start to the year, my life started to get a little better in April and May. In retrospect June was pretty much the beginning of when things started to get better, but at the time, during June and July, I wasn't quite sure if things were getting better or worse. The last few months of 2010 were much better and have been Baruch Hashem going really well. One major thing I learned from this year is that there are things you can and there are things you can't control. Even if you can't control other things, you can control your mentality and you can choose to be happy, but this isn't as easy as it sounds. I used to think that if I was in a bad mood, all I need to do is tell myself to snap out of it, and I'm good to go. Sometimes this works, but sometimes it takes a lot more patience and effort and a lot of trying and failing to get there.

Another thing I learned in 2010 is that bad situations can always get better. Sometimes I just didn't see how it could ever get better, but that's because I was looking for a fast immediate solution. Change is slow and takes a long time. Just because you don't see it coming, doesn't mean that it's not on its way.

My hope for 2011 is to hold on to this lesson, that some things I can control and some things I can't. To keep letting go and not worrying about the things that I can't control, and taking the right steps to take advantage of the things that I can control. My hope is not only to hold on to this lesson, but to learn new lessons as well. I hope 2011 teaches me new things, that I grow as a person, and that I meet each challenge successfully. I hope that 2011 continues in the pattern of 2010 of getting better and better.

I wish you all a happy and a healthy 2011!


Monday, December 27, 2010

I love snow

Snow is magical.

Snow is beautiful.

Snow is wonderful and simply amazing.

Snow makes me believe that anything is possible and that good things can happen.

Snow reminds me that even small steps make a difference, because snowstorms start off with a snowflake, then flurries, and slowly but surely it all adds up.

Snow encourages me to be unique, as no two snow flakes are identical.

Snow is the light that brightens up the dark winter days when the sun rises late and sets early.

Snow is the white sign of purity that I look for when cold days are dreary.

Snow teaches me that if I must fall from the sky, at least I should dance joyfully while I do it, letting the wind carry me to wherever I’m supposed to go.

Snow moves me to be creative, making snowmen, snowballs, and snow angels.

Snow strengthens my resolve to fight obstacles, as each step I take over the mountains of unplowed snow is a challenge.

Snow makes me thankful for moments of sipping hot chocolate under a warm cozy blanket in a nicely heated room.

Snow inspires me to be in awe of Hashem who created precipitation that can bury cars, stop all traffic, and give children a chance to have fun.

Snow gives me something to hope for, something to sing about, something to smile about.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Breaking My TV Addiction: Last Year's New Years Resolution

As 2010 draws to a close, I decided to reflect on last year’s New Years Resolution. I’m not big on New Years Resolutions, and in fact last year- 2009- was the first time I ever made one. I usually prefer to set my spiritual goals at Rosh Hashanah and use that time for reflection. Last year, however, the timing was right, and so I decided to make a New Years Resolution: to overcome my addiction to television. I made this decision not only for religious reasons, but for psychological ones as well. This is not a preachy post, it is not post venting about the evils of TV, rather it is thoughts about my own experience, which perhaps will encourage someone else struggling with the same issue. But before I get to the ending of the story, let me start at the beginning.

Let me start off my story by saying that December 31, 2009, was not my first attempt at giving up watching TV. As a child, I grew up with a TV in my house, but my family did not watch TV very much. Television was an occasional pastime for amusement, not something to be glued to for hours and hours a night. As I got older I watched more TV, and at some point in my early teens I became obsessed with a certain TV show. I would rush home from school to watch episodes and when I couldn’t make it, I would tape it so I could watch it later and not miss anything. Lots of people do this, but at some point I realized it wasn’t good for me to be so obsessed, and I slowly tried to stop. I remember one day, when it was time for that show to be on, and I forced myself to go to another room and not turn on the TV. The entire hour that the show was on was a struggle, as I had the constant urge to go watch even whatever was left. I didn’t just wake up that day and stop, I watched the show again after that, but slowly I weaned myself away from it until I was so firm in my resolve that it would be a struggle to get myself to watch the show. I grew to the point that I was so determined to stay far away from it.

Though I was victorious with that one show, I still watched other shows and movies all the time. Then came high school where I had teachers that spoke out against the evils of TV, and at some point in there I think I successfully gave TV up for a short amount of time, but then went back to it later. The longest I went without watching TV/movies was my year in Israel, and to be honest, I didn’t even miss it, not even a tiny bit. My time was spent doing other things and I never had the urge to watch TV. After I returned from Israel, I was resolved to keep this habit of staying away from TV, but that did not last very long. Although I was in college and away from my house with a TV, there was always my laptop and my friends’ laptops to watch movies, and it became a great way to procrastinate or relax, but it was also a social thing. It also always starts with one movie. “Oh, it won’t be so bad just to watch this one harmless film,” I would think to myself. But it is the beginning of a spiral. Numerous times I tried to limit my amount of TV-watching, knowing that it wasn’t realistic to try to give it up completely because that wouldn’t work. Those attempts were short-lived.

I would like to share my reasons for trying to give up TV. You see, I do not believe that TV is completely evil and that it is awful to watch any TV. In fact, that was a big part of my struggle. In many ways it is easier to fight something that is clearly wrong than it is to fight something that is only sort of bad. I kept justifying my television watching by telling myself that I wasn’t really watching anything so bad, which is pretty true, since most things were not inappropriate or obviously over the line. Watching relatively clean TV is not against Halacha, and since it is not Assur, that allowed me to rationalize that it was not really wrong, and that made it harder for me to stay away from. Finally, when I was able to verbalize my personal reasons that TV was having a negative influence on me and my life, I was able to stop. There are two main reasons, and as I mentioned before, one is religious and one is psychological.

The first reason is the religious reason, and my perspective on this is not the one that I have often heard, so let me explain it as follows. There is right and there is wrong. Pretty basic, not a novel concept that is difficult to understand. How do you know what is right and wrong? “That’s easy,” you might say, “I just know.” But the bottom line is that right and wrong, good and bad, are all determined by G-d and explained in the Torah. In society, especially in American culture, my experience is that morals are subjective and the entire realm of right and wrong is one big area of utter chaos and confusion. Everything is viewed subjectively and each person is left to decide for themselves, which is a task equivalent to trying not to fall down when someone much stronger than you pushes you with a heavy force and crushes you to the ground. If you’re left to fend for yourself to figure out what is morally correct and incorrect, your Yetzer HaRah will crush you. Your desires will take over your intellect. TV represents American culture. That is why it is very tricky.

I didn’t even realize it, but TV can mess up your moral compass. All of the sudden things that should seem outrageous to you seem perfectly fine. You watch people being murdered and violence, even in clean movies. You watch characters speak Lashon Harah, treat other characters in verbally abusive ways, act sexually promiscuous, and commit adultery. And the crazy part is that you’re rooting for these characters, the good guys, to do these wrong actions. And did you notice that most TV characters fail to ever show self control? They want something or someone and they go for it. They seek pleasure and don’t worry about consequences. Sure, there are some very good movies out there, movies that teach good lessons, movies that are inspiring. I have seen plenty of those. But those are not the majority, and it is difficult to know beforehand that the entire movie will be OK.

Entering the world of movies/TV is entering a world without Hashem. Often G-d’s existence is lacking in these worlds of fiction. Although I don’t believe watching TV is objectively wrong, I believe it is spiritually dangerous. Like all risky things, some people handle them better than others. I didn’t like the direction that I was going in with this influencing me. The bottom line of my religious reason comes down to the fact that movies were taking me farther away from Hashem and Torah. Since one of my goals is to be close to Hashem, I realized that watching movies and TV was not going to work for me.

The second reason, which for me was an equally compelling reason to stop, is the psychological one, and that is that I was using TV as an escape. I used to TV not just to relax, which isn’t such a bad thing, but rather I started thinking thoughts such as, “Wow, I had a terrible day. I need to watch a movie now.” I felt like if I watched TV then it would make everything all better. While it is great to be mindless for a little while and be swept into another world where you don’t have to think about real life, it makes returning to reality that much more difficult. While I was actually watching TV I enjoyed it, but afterwards I returned to feeling sad about my bad day. I realized I should live life and not just watch it, that I should appreciate my own life instead of living vicariously through others, and that I had to stop trying to escape my life, but rather deal with it and find the joy in it. There is a thin line between, “I am going to relax,” and “I want to escape my life for a bit,” and I was on the wrong side of the line.

For those two reasons, I decided to stop watching TV, but I had tried so many times before and was not successful, so I didn’t know how to go about doing it, until I had a break through. Most of the time the way to cure a drug addict or an alcoholic is not to tell them to reduce the amount of drugs/alcohol they are taking bit by bit. It is too hard to stop that way because once they have a little they want to have more. The way to stop is to just quit cold turkey. I decided to quit cold turkey. I would have never thought to do this because it wouldn’t be realistic. That goal is just too big; there is no way I could do that! My moment of break through was that perhaps it sounded too big, but I had to take the leap. The worst thing that could happen is that I would fail, but I had to at least try. So I jumped into my plan of starting January 1, 2010 to never watch TV/movies again. The one exception I made for myself is that I wouldn’t give up YouTube videos, because my friends post videos on Facebook all the time, and people email me cute videos all the time, and I knew that would be impossible. Also, I don’t think short 5 minute videos are equivalent to movies/television. The problem is that there are plenty of movie/TV clips on YouTube.

I am proud to say that I have pretty much kept my New Years resolution from last year. I have not watched a single movie since the year 2009, and I have not watched a single TV show, except for once, when I was in the same room as a friend who was watching a half-hour comedy show, which was loud and I was unsuccessful in my attempt to tune out. I also had a few partial slip-ups- times when I watched videos on YouTube for longer than I feel really fits into this resolution. In any case, everyone slips up. Putting those few slip-ups aside, overall I consider my resolution a success.

Interestingly, giving up TV was a lot easier than I would have imagined. It was not hard at all. In fact, all of the partial slip-ups were recently, in the past few months. The first few months, despite what I would have guessed, were actually the easiest. I knew the hardest part was going to be when friends wanted to watch movies with me. One thing I didn’t mention yet is that I only told two people about this decision. It was really important to me that no one know about it since I wanted to be sure that my intentions were pure and I wasn’t just putting on a show. Plus, it was a private decision, (which is of course why I’m writing all about it on my blog! :) - no, but seriously) and it wasn’t something I wanted to share with the world (or at least with people who know me). Which just goes to show you that Hashem helps you out in whatever direction you plan to go, because somehow this year I managed to get out of the few times my friends have asked me if I wanted to watch a movie with them by saying that I was busy. I don’t know how that plan managed to work for a whole year, but clearly Hashem was helping me out. The part of this decision which I thought would be hardest was not difficult at all in the end.

The impact that this decision has made on my life has been significant, but not enormous. While a nice ending to this story would be to say that it had a huge impact, the truth is that the effect was barely detectable. However, I do believe that this change has made me a happier person and the feeling that I accomplished something that I never dreamed I would ever be able to accomplish is a truly great feeling. I like my life better without TV, and I like myself better without it. I recognize that this is not for everyone, but for me, it was the right choice. I could probably write a lot more about this, but I will end by saying that I am glad I made the resolution, and that I took on something so big, and even more pleased with myself that I stuck to it.


Monday, December 20, 2010

EDIP: Emergency Dating Interference Procedures

Shidduch dating is risky business because you never really know how a date may go. You might have had the best phone call, and a person may have sounded great on paper, but then you arrive on the date, and suddenly things are not going quite as well. You notice that it has been a full minute since either of you has said something, which in dating time feels like an hour, and as you desperately rack your brain trying to think of something, anything to say, you try to sneak a peek at your watch. Only to discover that you haven’t yet spend an hour with this person.

If you’re a guy, then you’re in control and you have to just stick it out until it’s been long enough for you to say, “OK, let’s head back now,” or something to indicate that it is time to end the date, and then take the girl back home. If you are the girl however, then you are stuck waiting for the guy to end the date. And if he is having a jolly old time, while you are smiling on the outside and going crazy on the inside, then drastic measures are in order. Some of us are the blunt and comfortable type and don’t mind saying gently, “Are you ready to head back?” but sometimes guys just don’t seem to get the hint. Therefore, I would like to make a suggestion.

We need to establish girl code EDIP: Emergency Dating Interference Procedures. (Also called: eDip). My problem is that none of my eDip plans seem to work. In theory, the way eDip would work is that Girl A would make a plan with her friend, Girl B, to call with an emergency in the middle of the date. Then if all was going terrible, Girl A could excuse herself, answer her phone and apologize profusely and explain that she needs to take care of the emergency. The obvious problem with this is: who answers their phone in the middle of a date? That is just rude. So scratch that plan. My next idea for a plan is to take advantage when your date goes to the bathroom and pretend to be on the phone when he comes out, with someone who calls with an emergency. If your date doesn’t take a break, then this plan doesn’t work either. If your phone starts ringing while you are “pretending” to be on the phone, then this plan goes up in smokes as well.

My third attempt at eDip would be to tell the friend where you are going so the friend can show up and interrupt your date. But what do you do if you’re actually having a good time? How would you signal to your friend that the eDip should be called off? It seems there is no way for us to rescue our friends from bad dates early, nor is there a way for them to save us. I suppose we are doomed to being forced to stick it out.

Perhaps one of you has a better suggestion. Any ideas for a successful eDip?


Thursday, December 16, 2010

When good people do bad things

A recent story made me think about the fact that I am idealistic. Those who claim to be realistic have tried to convince me that I will not be this way forever, and that as soon as I meet an evil person I will turn cynical like them. I believe that people are good, and since that might sound naïve, I would like to quickly add that I also understand that people can do bad things.

I was having a conversation with someone about this man who I know who did something that is extremely bad and wrong. Just to be clear, this was something extraordinarily bad, and it is not like he just said a bad word or made some small mistake accidently. She blamed him for something else that he had been involved in, claiming he probably had bad motives in that instance as well. Though he behaved horribly, I suggested, “He probably didn’t think that. He was a nice guy.” This statement caused outrage. “He was a nice guy?!” she exclaimed. “Do you know what he did?!”

She knew very well that I knew about the situation since we had discussed it many times, and in all of those cases I had made it perfectly clear that I thought his actions were wrong, and that I found them to be completely unacceptable. I stared at her and told her that of course I knew what he did and that of course that was a terrible thing, but that doesn’t mean he is completely evil. “People are complex,” I explained, “Just because he did something terrible, doesn’t mean that everything he did was bad and that he was out to get everyone in every aspect of his life.” Looking at me like I was absolutely crazy, she insisted that he only put on show of being nice sometimes, but clearly his morally upsetting actions show that this persona was completely fake. Deep down underneath it all, he is a bad person.

For some reason this made me quiet and thoughtful for the rest of the day, and here I am writing about it to try to sort out my thoughts. Perhaps she is right, I thought, maybe it was all a show and I was completely wrong about him. This idea bothered me for a few reasons, firstly that I am a strong believer in my gut feelings about people. This is why when I first found out what happened, my shock lasted only a few seconds and then I knew it was probably true, even before I received confirmation. Although I always believed his friendliness was genuine, I could tell there was something additional going on with him that made me wary. Secondly, in addition to being bothered at the idea that I was wrong, I was also bothered by the idea that some bad behavior means a person is all bad.

I don’t live in a dream world. I know perfectly well that there are evil people out there, people who want to hurt people, people who do not have any good intentions at all, who are all bad. But I believe those are the few exceptions in humanity, and that most people are good, deep down. It is important to be prudent of people who do bad things, and of course I would never assume that someone who appears to be preparing to cause me harm is really good so I shouldn’t worry about it. Good people do bad things, but that doesn’t mean that they are bad. In fact, one cause of good people becoming bad is when they do one bad thing and believe they cannot fix it and that this one bad act defines who they really are. G-d allows for Teshuva. Ironically, today I spoke to someone in a way that I later regretted. Although I felt terrible afterwards, part of the reason I was upset is because I knew that I acted in a way that was not true to who I really am.
Since it has no practical ramifications to my life, as I don’t interact with this man on a daily basis, and since it is always best to judge people favorable, I concluded by deciding to think that although he messed up big time, aside from that I have faith that he is still a good person.

Questions for the readers/ food for thought: Do you think that someone who does something that is extremely bad and terrible, is all bad? Do you think that someone can be good and bad at the same time or is that too contradictory? Do you believe that there are people out there who are truly evil without any trace of goodness in them?


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Dieting Challenges

I am quite ready for Adar Sheini. With all of the Chaggim falling so early, Chanukah ended up right after Thanksgiving, and I decided that their unusual proximity was to blame when I hopped on the scale and cringed at what I saw. At least during Tishrei we’ve got two fast days in there to offer some assistance. After all, by the time I finished with leftovers from the turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie and other goodies from Thanksgiving, there were only a few days before Chanukah began, and the next thing I knew there was just so much to eat between the Chanukah gelt (I am a chocoholic), sufganiot, and delicious yet fattening, oily latkes. Although it is probably a good thing that at the time they were instituting the minhagim for Chanukah they had no knowledge of things such as fast food, French fries or high fructose corn syrup. I could only imagine if the story had happened in today’s day and age with the high rates of obesity, that the minhag would be to eat salad with an olive oil dressing to commemorate the oil burning 8 nights. While not as tasty, that would perhaps have been better for my diet. You know, the one that starts tomorrow (as diets always do).

I remember the first time I decided to try to lose a couple pounds. Baruch Hashem I only had a couple of pounds to lose-I was never overweight, though I was never skinny either. I had never considered exercising or dieting; I seriously enjoy eating good food and never liked sports or being active, as I was quite out of shape and would find myself huffing and puffing after anything longer or faster than a 5 minute walk. But in high school for the first time I got my act together and started eating healthier and started exercising. Losing weight is really difficult for a number of reasons, but one reason is that it requires a lot of motivation and perseverance to continue when it doesn’t seem like you are accomplishing anything at all. We often expect to see immediate results, and unless you go on some crazy diet to lose weight fast (which I am completely against because in most cases I’ve seen as soon as people go off of it they gain the weight right back and no one can stick to one of those crazy things forever), losing weight takes time. At least it does if you do it by changing your lifestyle and your eating habits.

I used to be jealous of people who are very skinny, especially those who insist that they are unable to gain weight no matter how hard they try. I always say that if I was super skinny I would never exercise at all and I would eat anything I wanted all the time. Which is why it is a really great thing that Hashem did not make me naturally skinny because then I would be very unhealthy. I realized that if I was born super skinny, I would not have learned some of the great lessons I learned from exercising and dieting. The first main lesson I learned was the one I mentioned above about perseverance, and along with that is patience. This comes in handy in so many situations in life, especially when it comes to working on middot. Sometimes I unrealistically think that I will just be able to change overnight, that I will just decide in my head to abolish a certain negative behavior from my life and that will be the end of it. Unfortunately, things are just not that simple. You don’t lose weight overnight, and you can’t change yourself overnight. Sometimes you might even gain weight before you lose weight. Sometimes you’ll fail before you succeed. But you can’t let that stop you or you will not get anywhere. You have to keep going day after day after day, even if you do not feel like you are accomplishing anything.

Another lesson that I learned is that it is not all or nothing. Just because I broke my diet and ate that piece of cake I promised myself I wouldn’t touch, doesn’t mean I should give up and decide to throw the whole diet out the window. One mess-up doesn’t mean it’s time to give up. The same thing is true for exercising. Ideally, working out for longer is better, but just because I don’t have time to work out for an hour every day, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t work out at all. If I can work out for 45 minutes one day, then that is great. If another day all I have is 15 minutes, then that is what I have and I go for it. I do what I can do and try my best. (As I wrote about before, every drop counts.)

Despite starting out completely out of shape, I started exercising regularly in high school and kept it up. I laugh when I think about how lazy I used to be and how I would get out breathe by walking down the block. When I go for a walk for an hour and feel like I can keep going, I feel great. Additionally, exercising turned out to be a great outlet for me to let out steam and de-stress. It’s a great way to take a break and revitalize. Although there are days when I don’t want to exercise at all and force myself to anyway, most of the time I feel great afterwards. To finish the story, I lost a relatively small, but for me a decent size amount of weight over a long, long time, most of which I kept off, though it’s been up and down.

Now that Thanksgiving and Chanukah are over, the diet starts today. Not tomorrow, today. Even if it is small, even if it is step by step, even if it seems like I’m not going anywhere. Even though I know I’m going to mess up, and won’t stick to my original plan. I will overcome my dieting challenges!


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Puzzle Pieces

As I sat down to work on the puzzle, I realized that it had been quite some time since I worked on a 1,000 piece puzzle. I forgot how putting together a puzzle is challenging, fun, frustrating, and how you receive a great sense of accomplishment and excitement when you finally finish it and the entire puzzle is complete, looking exactly like the picture on the box. The beginning was somewhat easy as I put together piles of pieces with the same color scheme that probably fit together. The problem arose when I was towards the end.

Most of the pieces were together, and the end was in sight. Except that I was looking for this one piece and couldn’t find it! I had all the other pieces in that corner together and just that one piece was missing. It shouldn’t be hard to find- after all it should be a light purple like the rest of the pieces, with a little bit of dark blue on one edge and a little bit of red on the other edge. But where was it? I saw pieces that seemed to be the right colors, but did not fit at all, and the pieces that were shaped in a way that looked promising were not the right colors. Maybe there was a malfunction and the puzzle was missing a piece? Maybe I dropped it on the floor?

Of course as I was searching desperately for that puzzle piece, I started thinking about how searching for a puzzle piece is like looking for one’s soulmate. You have certain things that you are looking for in a person, characteristics of that person. With each person suggested the question is, “Do they fit?” Like the puzzle pieces, which were sometimes the right color but not the right size, or the right size, but not the right color, some people have some of the things we are looking for in a spouse, but not others. Where is the person who fits perfectly? Life is not perfect like puzzles, but there is someone who is a close enough fit out there. Where is that person?

Well, I don’t know how my story of searching for a spouse will end up, but I will share with you the end of my puzzle story. Finally, of course, I found the piece. It was not missing; it had not fallen on the floor. The box was not defective, it contained all 1,000 pieces. After working on it and eliminating other pieces by finding where they went, and after searching and searching, I found the puzzle piece! It was that light purple color, but where I thought it should be dark blue, that part of the puzzle gets darker, so it was actually black. And the red ended right before that piece so there was no red. The piece was not the colors that I thought it should be, so I never considered it. You can probably guess where I’m going with this, but the point is that sometimes in life we meet someone who fits just right and they are not what we expected. We thought we were looking for certain characteristics, but in the end someone comes along and fits us perfectly in ways we never considered.

May all those of us who have not yet found our puzzle pieces, find the person who completes us and who we complete, so we can create our beautiful puzzle of life together.