Thursday, September 21, 2006

more writing stuff

this post has actually been in the boiling process for over a month now, but it reaches a new timely relevance with Tobie's latest posts...
so I'd like to tell you all a story, which may explain somehting abt how I relate to my characters, when I write fiction.

one Shabbat, several of my friends and I were staying at a sister's apartment, and all three of us were in one room. somebody said "Hey, it's like a slumber party! we should tell ghost stories!" only the other two punked out and made it my turn. so I attempted to tell the only ghost story I remember with any real clarity from my childhood, and botched it in the following manner.

most of you should be familiar with the tale. lone youngish Guy driving down a deserted highway late one night, sees a young Girl walking along the side of the highway and offers to drive her home. bc you know, not safe to walk along the deserted highway alone at night; you might get picked up by a random stranger. so, he sees she's shivering and gallantly offers her his jacket, which she gratefully accepts. drives her up to a nice old hoiuse and drives away, only then realizing she's still got the jacket. "No big deal," he thinks, "I know where she lives, I'll go back for it tomorrow." he goes back the next day, and a little old couple answer the door. when told the story of the girl and the jacket they insist they're daughter's been dead for ten years. "But that's impossible! I drove her home last night, I tell you! the girl's got my jacket!" they send him to the cemetary for proof, and sure enough, there lies his jacket on her grave.

but it had been awhile since ghost story days, and the way I told it was this. so, Guy is driviing along the road, late at night, sees Girl, offers her a ride. he takes her home and -wait, the jacket....oh yeah, something about the jacket, that was important...ok, so she left her jacket in his car. I don't know why, I bc of the heating in the car? bc the night was definitely dark and this point in the narrative I can feel the dead Girl sort of turn around and give me a look like "why am I wearing a jacket? and why am I taking it off and leaving it here?" but she does as I, the omnipotent narrarator, have forced her to do, glancing at me askance as she walks up the walkway to her house. Guy thinks it a little odd also, but he doesn't know why yet, so he just sort of shrugs it off. anyway, a little while away, Guy realizes she's left her jacket in his car. he thinks, no big deal, I know where she lives, I can go back tomorrow and return it. so he goes back the next morning and knocks on the door and the little old couple answer, and he says "Hi, I gave your daughter a ride last night and she left her jacket in my car." and they look a little confused bc they're not supposed to know anything about a jacket, and what is the jacket doing there? the jacket looks sort of confused too, but it can't lift its head to look at me funny. the little old couple insist that their daughter is dead and has been dead for ten years, as they're supposed to. Guy is now getting frustrated as well as confused. "But I drove her home! look, I have her jacket! I'm just trying to return the jacket!" but the couple doesn't know why he wants to give them this jacket, and he doesn't know why he's trying so hard to give the stupid jacket to a little old couple who clearly don't want it and the jacket doesn't know why its in this scene at all, since its entire creative purpose was destroyed the moment he got left in the car. the characters struggle thusly for a bit - "Take the jacket!" "Our daughter's dead!" "Just take the jacket!" "our daughter's dead!" - until I finally realize they're kind of in a stalemate, so I have the old man say "look, just - I mean if you don't believe us, why don't you go to the cemetary and see for yourself?" and slams the door, thus effectively moving guy to the final frame of the story where he's supposed to be although no one is sure why anymore. so he goes to the cemetary and sure enough...she's dead.

and that's how I end the story, with guy all confused, first abt the deadness, and second abt the jacket, which he eventually frustratedly leaves on her grave, bc he senses somehow that that is where it was supposed to be and nothing else made any sense anyway.

we all had a good laugh at my expense once I figured out where the story went wrong and fixed it. I guess the point is that sometimes I do make my characters do things, but they usually don't like it if it's not what they're supposed to be doing. and that never works out well for anybody, in the end.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Heresy, and Other Favorite Children's Pastimes

I apologize in advance for the length of this rant. but please read the whole thing before posting comments.

The more I explore the blogosphere, or at least that area of the blogosphere which is comprised of the musings of various young Jewish philosophers -disenfranchised, disenchanted, frustrated and struggling, intellectual, searching, and running around in semantic circles like chickens with their tongues cut off- the more agitated and frustrated I become. When will you realize you are all falling into exactly the same patterns as every Jewish thinker (read: Jewish person who has thought)that ever came before you? you are still defining your areas of thought by the same rules, restrictions, codes and guidelines as everyone you're trying to break away from (read: everyone who has ever thought seriously about Judaism.)I can feel you guys trying to break into new territory, an undiscovered concept, an original perception, and almost getting there, then at the last minute falling back into the same inevitable loop you have been falling into since the entire thought process began.

I'm sorry; I really don't know why I'm so bitter about this. I just keep feeling like it's all been said before, and yet each new person who says it afresh feels like it's a personal and irrevocable revelation without a resolution.

I cannot resolve anything for anyone, and I won't pretend to try. I'm not even going to pretend that I've got some new concepts here, because honestly, I haven't either. but at least I can recognize my struggle for a newer, fresher sphere. at least I can tell myself that just bc I'm frustrated doesn't mean that this is all there is. I'm still struggling, just like the rest of you, only I'm straining upwards, trying to shatter the glass ceiling with a broom pole. I know it's going to be bloody, but it's way the hell better than sticking around in the same endless track of Jewish thought (read: thoughts thought by Jews) that have been restricting, defining, and strangling especially the Orthodox Jewish movement for way too long now.

I should probably clarify at least a little bit what it is exactly that I'm trying to say. I apologize if I fail; sometimes high emotion and frustration make me eloquent, and sometimes they make me stupid.

when I talk about defining your areas of thought by the rules of the so-called opposition (or, the "They" if you prefer a specific title,)I mean that you define them the way they define you - two dimensionally, on the surface, looking only at the outlying characteristics rather than the full view of the community. I don't mean to say that any Orthodox Jewish community won't have its faults bc every community everywhere has its faults; and I won't say it's not frustrating to grow up within a system that insists you try to be something that you're not. but it's just as frustrating to hear you lump them all together in one group - they're all delusional, believing for the sake of the warm safe feelings it gives them at night. what about those people who never wanted to believe at all, but were forced to come to it on the strength of their intellectual honesty? what about those people who've had their faith challenged to the point where they feel like they've been completely abandoned, where they simply can no longer trust in a G-d which includes Evil in His list of character traits, but who won't let go bc they refuse to be beaten, even by the Master of the Universe? you fail to include, in your derisive lists of the delusional Orthodox, the people who are religous not bc of the warm fuzzy feeling of "I finally found truth!" but who live every day with the cold, hard, desperate realization that truth isn't just light and beauty -it's also evil and ugliness, it's shadows and obstructions and shadings and complexities - it's depth and depth perception. it isn't as simple and easy as it sounds. I'm not even talking about the people who've suffered innumerable tragedies in their lives. I'm talking abt those who maybe have suffered nothing physically, but who want to scream every time their older siblings assume that they believe what they believe simply bc it's what they've been told. some of us, even those of us who went through the system, did not simply accept everything on the silver spoon that was placed in our mouths. some of us fought to the death for every belief we hold. some of us had to break the system down piece by piece, from the inside out, to come to the realization that truth is not really as simple as anyone wants it to be - not the Orthodox, and not you who so disdainfully scorn them.

and then what about you from within the Orthodox world? honestly, some of you guys really try, and some of you do a pretty good job. but even you still fall into the same old traps - generalization, oversimplification, apologetics. Judaism was never meant to be a factory system. there will always be those of us who do not fit into your mold, no matter how wide it is. there will always be those of us who choose to see the world through a slightly different colored lense; but one that came with a prescription from the same eye doctor. If G-d wanted us all to be alike, He wouldn't have given us twelve tribes, each with its own place in Eretz Yisroel, each with its own bracha, each with its own strengths, weaknesses, characteristics. Judaism was always supposed to be a jigsaw puzzle - you fit in here, I fit in there, and together we make an entire picture. if we're all trying to fit into the same places, several things will result - 1)some of us just won't fit and 2)the picture will never be completed. I'm sorry, but the ever strengthening of the Black Hat community, reaching up and encroaching on even such MO bastions as Stern/YU and certain seminaries and yeshivot in Israel who shall go unmentioned, disturbs me almost more than anyting else in Orthodox Judaism today. there is no one right way. I will say for the last time, "Shivim Panim liTorah" actually does mean something - it means that Torah and Torah life are vibrant and dynamic, subject to debate and discussion. there's a reason there's a steryotype about the argumentative Jew. Jews are meant to argue - with each other about Torah, and with G-d, about Torah. of course only within the confines of halacha (bli neder, if anyone posts saying something to the affect of "but that's the reform movement, you can do whatever you want to!" I will break something, and it may be expensive and not belong to me, or it may be my hand, bc you clearly are misunderstanding everything I'm trying to say here.)and, which is included within the term "confines of halacha," since it is a halacha, that INCLUDES the concepts of "VIHAVTA LIRAYACHA KAMOCHA" and "KAVOD HABRIOT." I really don't want to get into the analogies to end of Second Temple Era politics here, but I will if I have to.

why can't there be Orthodox Jews who have honestly had their faith thoroughly and completely routed, yet hung on from sheer intellectual honesty and willpower and come through with a more intact, broader, more grounded and true faith? why can't there be Orthodox girls whose Gemorrah learning improves their middot, halacha observance, tzniut, and avodat Hashem, and leaves them just as fit to be baby-makers who can raise more ovdei Hashem as well as any shallow, hypocritical Bais Yaakov "rebel" who put on a button-down shirt and some tights to get a good shidduch? why does there have to be a black, white, and gray? why can't there be yellows and blues, and greens, and even a little red once in awhile?

look, I really think it's awesome that all you guys are talking and stuff. I just wish you'd communicate more. For all you disenfranchised youth - if you guys have reached your decisions regarding G-d and the universe, fine. go break Shabbat, eat pork, whatever. But if it bothers you enough that you're still so bitter about it, and still ranting and whining on the blogosphere, clearly your journey is not over. and if you're journey is not over, you are failing yourselves to give up so soon. I don't mean to minimize the intensity of your search. but it's not over till it's over, and only quitters give up before it's over. to all the Orthodox who try to help - it's awesome that you care. and you make a lot of good points. but you of all people should know that it's never ever over. remember that moshel about the ladder? going either up or down but never standing still? just because you guys "have found Truth" doesn't mean you get to stop searching either. Truth isn't a platitude, it isn't a sefer or a Rav or a psak, it's a process, and it is the process of everything that never ever ever ends. EVER.

so I'm just trying to say. I'm exactly like all of you - the disenfranchised and the Orthodox. I believe, firmly and irrevocably, in Orthodoxy and EVERYTHING (note the emphasis please) that it has to offer. but I'm also still searching and always will be, because I believe that the Torah is meant to be a battleground, brutal and draining and soaked with the blood of all the warriors who have ever come before us.