A perfect sea urchin

My Evil Thoughts

Welcome to where I air my evil views, proud, uncowed, unbowed, and absolutely evil, superficial, and ignorant. Get used to it. To return to the main blog page, just click here.

"And it's All Right..."

The chorus of both the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" and Electric Light Orchestra's "Mr. Bluesky" are full of minor notes. That ought to tell you something. I saw the sun come out this morning. It was only out for a few m inutes after three days of unrelenting, grey, and dark that alternated. As in February, the world looked better when it got dark. That says a lot. Well, with the sun out, it was different. With the rain turned off it was different. I was grateful.

It is unusual for me to be grateful. Gratitude is a weird emotion. I can be thankful when someone does me a favor, but just appreciating ordinary stuff...no. I can enjoy flowers in someone's garden, but that is the story of hungry eyes and desire. Gratitude, just by itself is not my feeling. I was not even grateful when I managed to get back to shore on Jeckyll Island after swimming at night some years ago. I don't know much about ocean swimming. I wanted desperately to get a swim in and had no time for it except at night. The tide came in or the wind or current blew me out. I swam toward shore thinking all the while: YOU HAVE NO BACKUP. I made it back and walked half a mile down the beach. I had also been blown sideways which was probably a good thing. I remember sitting on the bed shivering while I got dressed. Oddly enough I was so busy with my stress reaction I was not grateful to be alive.

Yet these past few days I've been grateful and at weird times. It started Monday when I managed to have a good commute to work that dodged the rain. In spite of hot flashes and a night full of mares from which I awoke glad of the present reality, I honestly told the Jehova's Witnesses who were freezing their poor buns off outside the Kensignton MARTA station that I felt terrific, because I was grateful for the lack of rain and a smooth as silk commute. That's not like me.

Then this morning, I was grateful again. I was grateful despite having fallen asleep on the train and waking up one stop further than I intended to go. I just stayed on the train and let it take me back. It was no big deal. I was not late and the sun was out. Yes, the sun was out, and I was grateful, but gratitude does not scream. It's closest relative is sad little relief. Gratitude is the emotion of the man who complains of the noisey house. He visits the rabbi in his village and the rabbi tells him to put the chickens, cow, mother-in-law, etc.... in the house. Then he tells them to turn them out. Let's just say the man is greatful for his newfound peace and quiet. After three days of unrelenting greyness, I was greatful for the sun.

Eileen H. Kramer -- March 31, 2011

Perimenopause is not for Sissies

I feel terrible though I am not sick. I'm on dry land again. There is nothing wrong with me. The storm is over, yet I feel indescribably rotten. I now know why comedians joke about women of a certain age going crazy from hormones. Feeling this rotten in a very physical way is not funny, but it is a fantastic excuse for a bad mood. I am sitting here, dog tired, with a fiercely upset stomach. I am dog tired, but I'm glad I'm awake. Last night a tension headache hit that left me nauseous and shivering. I took to my bed for ten minutes to an hour at a time until the Naproxen kicked in, and then I realized I had to eat now that I could keep food down. My dinner of black eyed pea salad and the last of the rye and corn muffins was delicious. Thankyou New York Times. I'm going to crash into your pay wall sooner than you think.

Then I could not sleep. I was glad I had Hertzel snuggling up to my stomach. He was warm and silky. As the thunder crashed, keeping me up and making my insomnia worse, I listened for the soft sound of his breathing. A cat asleep breathes very slowly, but feeling his breath rise and fall against me was one of the most reassuring feelings I have ever felt. I love you Hertzel boy. You were there when I needed you. Thankyou, my sweet boy kitty.

Then I finally slept. That's when I had a nightmare that put all the other nightmares I have recently had to shame. I was in my teens or still young enough to live with my mother. I was inside a huge, very modern, music school. In the dream it felt like I was somewhere in Dobbs Ferry near what used to be Latens on the Saw Mill River if this makes any sense. The building was huge and smelled of damp cinder blocks and chalk. It was full of auditoriums. I blundered into several of them. I climbed up and down stairs and somehow made it out into the night. I was relieved to be out of the maze.

My mother was waiting to pick me up. She yelled at me for disturbing classes. I knew I hadn't disturbed any classes. I was just trying to find my way out of a building where I did not belong. Nothing would control my mother's anger which of course only made me more angry. You get the idea. I awoke this morning exhausted but utterly grateful for the persent reality. Of course my fish oil pill is not agreeing with me and probably my iron pill isn't making things any better. You can guess it. I have an upset stomach again. I really want a date with the counch. And none of this is funny, not when you are the butt of your body's sick joke.

The Wine of Power and the Elixir of Freedom

We read about the deaths of Nadav and Abihu this weekend in synagogue. They offered strange fire before the Lord who burnt them to a crisp or electrocuted them for their troubles. No good deed goes unpunished. I guess God does not believe it is the thought that counts, though maybe the thought does count. It's not easy being number four and five (or tied for number four since the brothers are never mentioned separately and have no separate personalities, and the younger brothers, Eliezer and Ithamar also appear as just cyphers) in a big hierarchy that works in a portable palace and shares in meat and grain others give them. It's easy to want to be more than a cypher. It's tough to have a supporting role and not know if one is goign to lose it as the first born lost their role.

God plays favorites. Nadav and Abihu had probably absorbed the lesson, so they stepped out of the shadows. There's no business like show business when it comes to cultic or temple worship. This was a gentle, unarmed, palace coup and someone be it God, their father (Fathers do compete with sons so this is not unheard of), Moses (Uncles can compete with nefews too.) made sure to neutralize their competition, if you'll pardon the euphemism.

In some ways of course Nadav and Abihu are every man, even hungry for power, they are every man and every woman? How long do we tolerate playing second fiddle. How tempting is the brass ring when it is within our grasp? How easy is it to freestyle it during services, and even how desirable? Are rules alawyas a good thing, or are they imposed by those in power to keep power? The rabbi was honest this week. He said that this was a tough parsha to read.

The last part of the parsha made it even tougher. The kosher food laws are something one memorizes and then forgets. They have little bearing on how one keeps kosher in the twenty-first century. Sure one avoids pork, frozen rabbit (One sometimes sees this), shellfish, frog's legs, etc..., but mostly one looks for a hekscher (kosher seal) on processed items including pasta but not frozen vegetables. The kosher laws at the end of the parsha cover a whole range of foods that never make it to the supermarket but which people eat, ravens, owls, hyraxes, camel etc... What's going on? First Aaron's sons died and now the Bible is telling me what I can and can't eat? What is the connection?

Well, let's replay the death of Nadav and Abihu again. God or Aaron or Moses (Was that Ark booby trapped?) show their power by killing Nadav and Abihu. This is a raw and naked power play. A logical reaction to this kind of power at the top is to vote with one's feet if one doesn't like it, but taking off into the desert, even with a small flock, means a fair amount of living off the land. Most of the kosher laws forbid the eating of most wild game otherwise called bush meat. The message is clear: YOU ARE UNDER THE POWER OF THE PRIESTHOOD AND YOU CAN'T WALK AWAY BECAUSE IF YOU DO YOU WILL STARVE. What could be more ingenious.

The legal portions of the Bible tell a story, and the story is a frightening one. Those of us nice and comfy in the twenty-first century whether we are on the derech or in some less fanatical branch of the faith, need to look at these carefully. The story is frightening. It is the story of totalitarian control. It is not the story of the way we practice Judaism. A bala tsuva after all takes on the stringencies of the faith by choice. She is like a priest or nun taking vows. Jews are in some ways a nation of priests, though that is a Christian concept, and more specifically a protestant one. The folks in the encampment of Leviticus and Numbers (Bamidbar) have no choice about what they do. We are not them, but we need to remember that there are those who would like it that way. Let Leviticus and Numbers be a call to arms for our freedom; for only in freedom does the religion we know and love thrive.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 3/28/2011

Pull up a Deck Chair!

I'm serious. The captain took pity upon me and I crossed the dock and happily all but skipped up the gangplank to the Ship of Misery. I've got my old spot back in the galley where I made rye and corn mufflins (diverticulosis safe of course!) for shelach manot for Purim. I'm psyched for the delivery. Lady GaGa is blasting away from the galley boombox, and the captain laughs every time I head for the scuppers, from which I return with an achey body and a big smile. He can't get over my smile.

I ask myself if I am laughing and why I am so happy even though I feel a bit unwell. I don't care that I feel unwell. It is still early enough for this to be a normal period. Yes, a storm has overtaken me after ten weeks of absence. Yesterday, my humor was black, and I addressed myself as YOU INFER-TILE THING! Well maybe I ovulated, and maybe I didn't. I had an endometrium. That is clear enough, and today I am doing a bit more than spotting. My stomach is upset. My legs ache. The naproxen is blocking most of the discomfort, though part of me really wants a date with the couch.

I tell myself this is not like it was what I was in my thirties or even like it was a year ago at this time. A year ago at this time, I had not yet had that "come to Jesus moment" in the synagogue leadies room where I cried out an expletive followed by the explanation: "I am sick." I was going to see the doctor anyway, and so began to get a lot of reproductive health concerns doctored. That has been helpful. I know that the storm may not clear out on schedule even though it is following my body's typical script. This is the easiest part for my body to remember. Also, there was no violent, adolescent style dysmenoreah. The soreness and unwellness that can break through the medication but msotly doesn't, is typical of how I have weathered the storm throughout my thirties and forties. That is a good sign, but most of my periods start out normal. They then drag on and somewhere around day eight or nine if they are still there, that is where the trouble is.

This one had plenty of warning. My breasts were tender. I thought maybe it's time to wear a bra, as I youched my way down the stairs on several occasions. I thought about the upset stomach and IBS, but my mind was pre-occupied with a stupid yeast infection and then... yesterday at 5pm. You can see why the captain took pity on me. I may no longer be an INFER-TILE THING but I'm a perimenopausal lady with itchy, shriveled, dried-up privates, and I'm bleeding at the same time. The captain, who is male, though any fan of Lady GaGa is a friend of mine, took pity on me. He said he was glad he head a Y chromosome and all the equipment that went with that. I laugh back at him. Even with all the trouble my plumbing is currently giving me, at least it won't ever get stuck in a fly or hurt in a fight or caught in a door. Internal genitalia are really superior even if they are more complex and occasionally cause trouble.

This time I intend to walk off this ship of misery as soon as I'm not sore any more. I can handle the itching with medicine from the drug store. Spring is here. I tell myself that my stint in the galley is only temporary. Happy Purim.

Eileen H. Kramer -- March 18, 2011

&qquot;Collateral Damage"

I am not going to take back what I said in the last post. Week-to-week, Shabbat-to-Shabbat, I feel welcome and even appreciated. I feel included. I enjoy the service. I have some friends and a bit of a social life connected with the synagogue, as well as the privacy of living in a different neighborhood. I have the freedom to practice my own brand of Orthodoxy which has a big streak of slow food, survivalism, and a muscular faith of long walks and free style prayer.

This kind of a paragraph always comes before a big BUT. OK, you knew this was coming. I'm not going to say what started it either, but somewhere, under the skin, just like the occasional crack heard around a Shabbos table or the young man who has been radicalized by reading certain writings, there is an ugly undercurrent that effects me as a single female within the religion. First, I deal with marginalization. I think this is just as bad for males, because American customs make houses of worship less inviting places for them. On the other hand, Orthodoxy, gives a male in the know, a chance to strut his stuff. On the other hand, I have American custom on my side.

The marginalization slips out among those who would like to "help me." Their intentions by and large pave the road to perdition. Sorry, when you gather to pray for singles, you pray for their elimination via marriage. I have nothing against being married, though I think considering it given the current state of my romantic life is way too premature. What I want is a dating life with some romance. The first dates can be Platonic. I have big issues with sex and halacha, but that should not effect going out the first few times. After that, I'd love to have the question of worrying about what next. The problem is that the rush to marriage rather than the goal of simple sociability, may push away men who would otherwise might be great for socializing even if it never goes further. As a matter of fact, I think this has all ready happened to me, twice. The second time hurt more than the first. I think that women who act as man-grabbing harpies in a race to the altar spoil it for their sisters, not because they lose out, but because the whole harpy thing is a huge turn off.

What I need now is a boyfriend (or two or three). If one of them becomes a lover or husband, it would be great, but it is not necessary. If we end up being just good friends, that is fine too. Companionship with the opposite sex tops the list. I am heterosexual and I like men. I enjoy going out. It's that simple.

Then we have the shadchanim. I apologize for the use of Hebrew, but the word means Matchmaker. Que up that song from Fiddler on the Roof, but again this is a case of limited help that does not always help due to its limitations. Whether the shadchanim are really effective or not in their mission does not concern me. Some are professional. Some are tactful. A few are rude. This applies to all of them. If what I need is companionship, concentrating on marriage isn't going to help me address my needs.

> A second and even thornier problem is that marriage at my age does not raise my social status, and when it comes to Orthodox Judaism, socially the reverse resume rules for women. I am not only unmarried, I am childless. I used to chafe at having to accept unlicensed (no MLS or MLIS) librarians or teachers as my equals (since I have an MLS and work for a college). Well, it's worse than that. I can no longer reproduce. Oh horror of horrors my biological clock has run out, and the world did not come to an end. In fact, I'm kind of relieved. I hope it's really run out for good, because I went through a number of really weird health issues before my period went away. Health and getting older just plain beats being sick, and besides, being sterile means that I don't have to try through extraordinary means to reproduce should I marry, something I would find really distasteful.

Unfortunately, being a nonreproductive single, means that in some people's eyes, I have suffered a tragedy or maybe gotten what I deserved. Also, Orthodox Jewish men are under the obligation to produce a boy and a girl child. Sorry, guys the well is dry. This makes me damaged goods in the Orthodox marriage/dating market. And if I did marry, it would be to a low status man, and I would form half of a low status couple. While the women with babies would have something to talk about, I would play left out. While the women with kids in school could talk "philosophy of education," I too would be left out even though I work in academia. Is this getting to sound ugly yet?

And do I have a solution? YES! I think we should take a leaf out of the mega-churches' book. We need a singles group, not a group to marry singles off, but a club that got together Shabbos afternoons or maybe sometimes for Shabbos lunch. This would get rid of the fifth wheel/left out feeling that singles sometimes suffer (not always. There are exceptions and it is possible to be a single female with married friends, something that shocked my mother.) when they sit at a table full of those with families. Singles can talk about the issues that effect them, travel, leisure, professional issues, religious issues, but from a single point of view. Singles can support eachother in a convivial atmosphere and if we find somebody, well fine. If we just find friends great. If we find both, better, and if we just have a good place to be, well that's not so bad either. Yes, I may suggest this idea. I bet it will fly like a lead balloon, and I am not sure why.

Eileen H. Kramer -- March 10, 2011

I'm Not Deluded

Back in February Failed Messiah published the post I've just linked. It's an interesting article. The weird thing is that I would have answered yes, that I feel my Modern Orthodox synagogue is quite gender equal. True, we have separate seating.

Some time has passed since I read the article though, and I'm starting to have second thoughts. Now, I still would say that for me my synagogue does a pretty good job of being gender equal. I would also say that those who also agree with me are not deluded. Rather, they are lucky. The article gets its rosey statistics in a number of ways.

First, an adult person can only go to one schul (maybe two or three) but really only affiliate with one institution. An adult is by and large going to go where he or she feels comfortable. If a woman feels oppressed enough and she is not forced to go to an institution by friends and family, she'll vote with her feet and her husband, if she is married, may follow her, or she will choose a mate who is not affiliated with a syangogue she finds oppressive. Any one who finds the position of women in Orthodoxy a real problem, has a solution at hand, either choosing a less stringent brand of the faith or switching synagogues. Sometimes this latter is all one needs.

Seond, in a small institution separate but equal can happen. It doesn't always happen, and it doesn't happen to all people in all age groups, but it can and does happen. The Modern Orthodox at least have realized women need to see and hear the service. Don't stick women in Siberia and have a mehitzah over which one can see, and one of the major and very valid complaints against separate seating vanishes.

Third, what works for me and my needs doesn't work for everybody else' need. I'm a mature spinster. I've never had a child. In the United States, going to a house of worship is a typical female activity. In short, it doesn't take much to make me happy. If I can go to services and pray and maybe go to someone's house for lunch, I'm happy. If I go to my own house for lunch, I know the world does not owe me a free lunch.

If I were an agunah I wouldn't think much of the way Orthodox Judaism treats women. If I were a parent of a high school or middle school aged daughter, I would be profoundly angry that my girl would be denied the right of truely public performance, which is a rite of passage for American teens and which is a formative experience her friends in college will have and one which she will miss. I would not want to send my child to a high school that did not teach a modern language of some type. I would worry that there was no shop or home ec in middle school, but I don't have any kids. I lack a dog in this particular fight.

Likewise, I don't have to worry about whether a husband or potential mate feels comfortable on the male side of the mehitzah where the world is different. As a female, I don't have to do all the choreography. I have no props. Learning the ritual is easier.

Last, I realize it is possible to get marginalized for reasons that don't have much to do with my gender. Orthodoxy has a hard time knowing what to do with older singles. I got to listen to a real dawg of a sermon at the Southern Singles Shabbaton. Basically, any mature adult sooner or later realizes that they are not entitled to a free lunch. If you don't get invited for shabbos lunch you have nothing of which to complain. Not being invited is normal. Getting invited is a plus. This is not middle school!

Likewise, rejection is not pitfall of the dating world. Dating is social and fun. Not every date works out. Sometimes it is good to say "no.&quo; Sometimes you need to hear "no." Lack of dates can be unhappy, but there are other ways to socialize. See above about free lunches and middle school. Besides rejection has an up side. Seculars who are expected to socially date and go through a few relationships, learn how to break up and survive a break up. Rejection is a learning experience.

The point of all this is that male singles also endured the same dawg of a sermon and misplaced advice. Having no Y chromosome did not single me out for marginalization.

And when it comes to marginalization for reasons other than gender, there is always the "Jew without money." I used to complain mightily about the fat-cat schul in Columbus, Georgia. It's hard when you make half what the rabbi does. Let's just put it that way. One of the good things about Orthodoxy is that it places a bit more of a premium on faith rather than gelt. That is a big relief. Let's just leave it at that.

The Atlanta Botanical Garden says it has daffodils blooming. I hope the fancy narcissus are out. It will cost $19.00 to see them, but Atlanta is bulb starved due to the recession and two years of draught before that. Bulbs only last so long. We have daffodils left because they are the hardiest bulbs, but I have only seen hyacinths and scilla once. I have not seen any muscari and they might be finished. I did see some crocuses. There will be very few tulips. I'm desperate enoughto pay to see all of them and may very well do it.

Planting bulbs is an act of faith. You have to take discretionary income in the fall and buy the things, put them in the ground and then in February through May, up they come. If this were Syracuse, New York, planting bulbs would be a no brainer. There is a long period between when the snows begin to recede and when you are completely frost free. Bulbs are what bloom in the long cold spring. They are the brighteness for which one hungers after winter.

Here in Atlanta (and it was worse in Columbus), the whole bulb season happens six weeks earlier and about twice as fast. By April one can plant annuals, so if one is strapped for cash, and worried about the future, bulbs are not the emotional investment. As a result, there are not many real spring flowers. The die-hard Central New Yorker in me is saddened by all this, and yes, she will pay her $18.95 to get an eyeful of what she hopes are fancy daffodils that live somewhere other than her computer screen.

Eileen H. Kramer -- March 6, 2011