Sunday, May 30, 2010

And What Did You Do Today?

"Fine, thanks." Some of us need to work on the short answer - present blogger included. When people ask, "How are you?' I sometimes mistakenly answer in a complex way, the mistake being thinking thinking people want the answer my way. Years ago I heard that if you ask Al Gore what time it is he'll tell you how a watch is made. That's the kind of detail I could live without. But if I ask how you are I want to hear a nuanced, real answer. We tend to treat others the way we want to be treated, so if you give me a longhand answer to how you are I will hopefully try to be there with you taking in how you express how you are.

"What are you doing this summer?" The desired answer, "Going away to X." That's just one more example of a conversational question where one or more full sentences are not the desired answer. People in a wide array of contexts ask, "How are/were your classes this year?" The desired answer is, "Fine." And they are/were fine, and also my classes are/were great and complex in myriad ways.

חנך לנער על-פי דרכו -"Teach a child according to his way (and when he is old, he will not depart from it.)" Mishlei - Proverbs 22:6 - The vav is missing in Chanoch for, I think, 2 reasons. Rabbi Paysach Krohn says that the lesson here is that it's easy to teach a perfect kid, but we have to reach out to the imperfect. And no-one in this world is whole and complete. My take is that the verb - teach - is written incompletely to reflect our own lack as teachers. And yet we have to try.

I listened to Sarah Jessica Parker interviewed on NPR today and the real her surprisingly brought tears to my eyes. She spoke about the first time she saw Christina's World and how it opened up a world for her - the world of art. She feels strongly that anyone can draw and produce art. She also feels strongly that an appreciation of art is in all of our lives. I am not taken by the image I had of her before this interview. The real her, or at least the her she presented in this interview touched me. She says that all she has in common with her most famous character is looks, sometimes - and a love for New York City. The interviewer played a clip from Square Pegs in which she gets dumped by a guy. Sarah finished the line together with her young character in the clip - a line about reaching for the moon. She sounds a bit nerdy and proud of it. She loves museums and arts and is starting a show soon on cable, in which people compete with their art - and she hates that a winner gets chosen at the end, as that's not the point.

In this art themed show, studio 360, Alfred Molina was also interviewed. The interviewer said most people are probably familiar with Mark Rothko's art. Really? Molina plays Rothko in a new play and he and the play are each nominated for a Tony. He says that once you've done your homework you have to throw it away. He loves that the writing is not clumsy and that it is about the physical labor of making the art. There's a scene in which they - Rothko and his assistant - attack the canvas, every night. In the play Rothko argues against popular artists like Andy Warhol and he says it's better to be respected than to be liked. Molina doesn't mind playing unlikable characters, even when they have no apparent redemptive side at all. He had a Spanish mother and an Italian father, grew up in a working class neighborhood and attributes - humbly - that to his knack for accents, and also for a wide array of characters.

On another note (what else is new?) I was a fan of Peter and the Wolf as a kid. I still am, and yet in my mind it is inextricably tied to my childhood - particularly to my mom. Some years ago at a social work holiday party held at Hunter college I bought the Prokofiev music in the gift shop. I have fond memories of listening to the album along with narration as a child. Today I happened upon and watched this lovely rendition of the story, directed and adapted by Suzie Templeton.

Within the first few days of Gemorah class I always put the following on the board:

Time flies
You can't
They go too fast

It doesn't make sense right? If you change your thinking though and reject the common phrase time (noun ) flies (verb) in exchange for the understanding that this is a command to time (verb) the bugs called flies (noun) then the last line comes into focus. You can't time the flies because they go too fast. I use this to illustrate the idea of hava amina and maskana and how Gemorah shows you to think out of the box, to broaden your thinking, to develop sophisticated perception and perspective.

Two outstanding students L.R. and S.F. made this illustration of the original thought that time flies and submitted it together with an excellent write up of the full idea.

Bernard Raskas says (Heart of Wisdom III pg. 264) that if the letter Y is broken on a rabbi's keyboard then he's in trouble. There are three tiny words that a rabbi must keep in mind when he speaks, and they all include the letter y. 1- The rabbi must remember that he is speaking to a community of individuals. This is not for him, it's for YOU. 2 - Like a three year old child that asks with genuine curiosity over and over again, a rabbi must lead his listener to question and attempt to answer important WHYS. 3 - There must be something affirmed by the speaker and an enactment set into motion for the listeners. It comes down to one little, practical, positive word: YES.

Time for sleep. I wish peace to those of you who are out of work, those of you who are alone and unhappy, those of you who are in unhappy relationships, for people with illnesses diagnosed and un, labelled and un, physical and non physical. I wish a peaceful night sleep to you. Try chamomile tea, it worked for Peter of and The Rabbit fame. I wish you honesty and kindness and grace. Goodnight and may G-d bless.


Anonymous Shira at Table Poetry said...

Interesting comment on חנך לנער על-פי דרכו . I hadn't heard of that explanation before, but I like it. I like it when form reflects or even creates meaning.
On another note, I don't believe I've ever seen Sarah Jessica Parker looking so unglamorous! Nice. She's human after all.

June 1, 2010 at 3:10 PM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Thanks for the comment. I like the idea re chanoch lena'ar a lot - so much so that I've written about it here repeatedly. To me it's big.

From this interview it sounded like SJP is an artist, much more into art and meaning than into glamour.

On a somewhat related note, she was one of the narrator's of the film A Life Apart, about Chassidim in Ameririca. She explained to the director, Menachem Daum, that she was named for her grandmother and that her Hebrew name is Sorah Yiskah.

Sorah Yiskah is one of those Yiddish names where the name is repeated twice, like Dov Ber and Yitzchak Isaac. Someone once suggested that the name Noson Natah is also two versions of the same name. (That's meaningful to me because my Hebrew/Yiddish name is Natah).

June 1, 2010 at 4:17 PM  
Blogger kishke said...

Parker is Jewish? I had no idea.

June 3, 2010 at 8:58 PM  

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