Monday, February 26, 2007

The Oscars: Too Gorey for me

I really didn't want to, but I broke down and watched all but the first half-hour of the Oscars. It was one of those times like eating a whole bag of cookies. You hate yourself for doing it, but you can't stop.
This was a particularly stupid time-waster for me as I have a huge deadline, I never go to movies, and I don't even own a TV. But my son had procured a ten-inch-diameter set, jiggled and prodded the aerial so there was a ghostly, snowy image, and propped it at the foot of his bed. I ended up sitting on the floor, scrutinizing all the non-lesbian presenters' dresses.
I don't need to go into a blow-by-blow of the interminable evening's proceedings. My quick thoughts are that Ellen deGeneres was unnecessary and worse, unfunny, the musical numbers were bland, the acceptance speeches mediocre, the Italian composer could have learned how to say his piece in English, and the American montage was just plain anti-American, offering one hateful aspect of history after another with not a moment's tribute to the glory, the beauty, or the godliness of this land for balance.
But there was one aspect of the show that made me smile: Al Gore. The sappy gushing about how endlessly inspiring that man is--all three-hundred mafia-esque pounds of him--alternately made me guffaw and wonder if the Academy was even dumber than I'd suspected.
"It's not a Republican or Democratic issue--it's a MORAL issue!" Global warming. Say it fast three times and you can sound like a frog. Are those who see a longer, broader history to the earth's cyclical warming and cooling immoral? Or, as I believe--is Al Gore and his tearful ilk ARROGANT?

Ever get one of those awesome, ubiquitous emails showing the earth from outer space? From space in daylight, there is no evidence of man. We are so small, and so insignificant, each one of us minuscule as a grain of sand, and less enduring. Yes, humans have made local, minor impact on the topography. But given the vastness of the seas, and the relatively small amount of land we inhabit--and how we are so subject to climatic forces we can't control--HOW DARE AL GORE believe he or we are so powerful as to cause the temperature of the earth to change?

Hey Al, what about the SUN? Think the sun has any impact? If you're so smart, I wish you'd come to Seattle and start predicting the weather, cuz the guys we've got now sure can't do a very good job! Just when I think I won't have to wear my thermal underwear, oops, another cold front! Maybe you can tell me how a caravan of Priuses can bring a little MORE global warming into OUR vicinity??? Remember, I'm searching for bright light...and from all the hoopla on the Oscars over Al Gore last night, it's clear all his groupies are a bunch of dim bulbs.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Why I Search for Bright Light

I've been blogging intermittently for a few weeks now, though I haven't let many others know of this secret expression. Well, keeping something secret that's posted to the world wide web is almost silly, but I haven't broadcast even to friends that I occasionally muse about topics of interest to me.
But, lest anyone be curious as to why I named this blog "Searching for Bright Light," let me explain. On the most superficial level, it is winter in the Northwest. As a California girl who moved northward a decade ago, the most disconcerting aspect of the environmental change was not the dampness, not the overcast, not the dreary on-and-off rainfall, nor even temperatures that require me to wear full thermal underwear from October through March. No, the most disheartening environmental feature I was to discover was: darkness.
In Southern California, I always rose in the sunshine. My clock-radio would click on, awakening me before the voice of the announcer or the tones of the latest Oldie. (Which of course then was a New-ie.)
Nobody ever told me that the farther north you go, the later the sun rises, so when my first October in the Northwest arrived, and I discovered that it was very black at 7 and then 8 am, my internal clock rebelled and my usual eagerness to attack a new day deferred to a desire to remain warm under my electric blanket until the proper signal for activity--sunrise.
But this would not work, as I had to get children to school (before dawn) and plenty to do beyond that. So, I did what everyone else in the Northwest seems to have done: I bought a lightbox. A lightbox is, you see (which is what I wanted to do, after all) a metal box containing very bright florescent lights. In order to combat SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder (which I wasn't sure I had, but which I clearly didn't want to get), one sits very close to the lightbox for about a half-hour twice a day. I purchased my lightbox at the Northwest's premier lightbox emporium, the Indoor Sun Shoppe. Don't forget to pronounce that last word "Shop-ee."
The Indoor Sun Shoppe is like a grand terrarium. You step inside and feel like a chameleon slithering among all the tall tropical plants, in 85-degree heat, nearly blinded by the glare of lightboxes from every direction. You cannot be sad in such a place, because you are groping for your sunglasses and Maui Babe oil. Why do vacationers flock to warm beaches? Because there you are surrounded by bright light, bathed in negative ions, and soothed by a warmth that thaws your bones and your soul.
So, on the most obvious level, I am searching for bright light in a land where mornings are dark, rainy and cold. And as everyone knows, morning is supposed to be a metaphor for new beginnings; light is a metaphor for knowledge and insight. To be cold is to be withdrawn emotionally, frigid in every sense, hardened, unreceptive and inexpressive. To be "in the dark" is to be unaware, unenlightened. That's un-en-LIGHT-end. There is no sight without light. There is no clarity without light. And rain, in every song, is tears, sadness, negativity.
You know the familiar Jimmy Cliff lyric: "I can see clearly now, the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind. It's gonna be a bright, bright sunshinin' day."
I am searching for the bright light of clarity. I am searching for the warmth of harmonious relationships, the sunshine of possibility and happiness. Bright sunshine is immediately associated with good weather, with hope and energy and optimism. And it is that upbeat, positive energy that I seek, through the light of chesed, of ma'asim tovim, of Torah, and through my own efforts to bring sincerity and significance to my world and a greater world.
My cell phone banner reads "happy sunshine!" My kitchen is painted in golden sunshine tone, with aqua and persimmon, and magnets that spell out "happy." What a joy it is to live. I am searching for bright light in a dark, dank part of the world, but the search has paid off. There is much brilliance here to be found, and much simcha and warmth that is all the more precious because of the search.
The other day, when dropping off my daughter at her college residence, I saw the first tree of the season covered with pink blossoms. I was unprepared for the sight and did not have at hand the once-a-year blessing upon viewing the first blossoms that herald spring, that proclaim increasing light. "Blessed are you, God, king of the universe, who did not withhold from his world anything, and created in it creatures that are good and trees that are good, to cause pleasure with them for the children of Man." The trees, too are searching for bright light, and at the prospect, explode with possibility. Just as I want to do as well.

Monday, February 12, 2007

People to whom Valentines would have been mother, 4th from right, next to her mother, with the eight living (of 13 originally) children. What year do you think this could have been?

Have a Heart

Jews don't believe in Valentine's Day. Not even if the "Saint" title is obscured. Not even if the entire culture is rife with red hearts, silver foil, expensive bouquets and urges not to forget the beloved lest that love be lost. Jews don't believe in Valentine's Day not because we're a curmudgeonly lot, determined to fly in the face of the surrounding culture, though indeed we often are just that. In fact, expression of love is well-rooted in Jewish culture...and in fact prescribed by Jewish culture. There are actual Jewish laws that command husbands about their intimate duties to their wives--how often their services are to be offered at a minimum, determined by the profession of the husband. More well known might be the habit to bring the wife flowers on the eve of the Sabbath. Equally important are traditions to treat one's husband like a king, and one's wife like a queen.
So why, then, are religious Jews so obtuse about Valentine's Day? Well, largely because of that well-camouflaged "Saint" origin. Jews don't care much for Easter, either. Ramadan isn't observed as well.
Jews have plenty of holidays as-is. Some might even secretly think, "too many holidays." Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, okay, everyone knows those. And Chanuka, yes, the Jewish answer to....NO, exactly the opposite, the Jewish answer to Jews assimilating. But what about those lovely four days for Sukkot and Shimini Atseret? "The time of our rejoicing." Four days for Passover. Shavuot, the giving of the Torah. Seven weeks of counting the Omer. Three weeks of mourning Jewish tragedies in the summertime. The birthday of the Trees. SIX, count 'em, SIX fast days. And they call the one month without holidays "MAR Cheshvan," bitter because it has no celebrations.
Well, I'll confess to those few who read this: I like Valentine's Day. I enjoy those hearts, I enjoy the idea of professing love. I enjoy the cheerfulness of the rows of flowers at the supermarket, and the sweetness of the sappy cards. I (big confession for a Jew...) make Valentines for my children. With construction paper, doilies, stickers, silver markers, and lately, even heart-cropped photos of me with each of them. I send a Valentine to my aunt, who's 100 years old. Another to our adoptive brother/uncle/household helper. The ones to my children say "I love you to the MAX," the ones to others say, "Happy Valentine's Day," but really say, "I appreciate you. I remember you. I care about you."
There's plenty to say against Valentine's Day, now that it's become so commercialized. But then again, nobody buys a bouquet of roses against his will. Nobody gets a mylar balloon or a Vermont Teddy Bear or even a box of chocolates ("you never know what you're gonna get") without caring about the recipient. And all the merchants and florists and balloon inflaters and Teddy Bear-stuffers are happy and the economy prospers and the free market system scores another victory. But this time, it's doing so because of love. Because our culture has embraced the idea of expressing affection and caring. I just find it tough to argue with that.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Kodak Moments

Just got a new camera. An upgrade of my old one, a one has twelve times optical zoom, image stablization, manual focus. I don't think I'm the only one in the world for whom taking photos is important--just look at the proliferation of photo upload sites, sharing sites, image manipulation software, printing options. Photos have become something different from what they were--when I was a kid, my dad loved taking slides but very rarely he'd spend the time sorting them into slide trays, setting up a screen and projector and putting on a show. So rarely, I have only vague remembrance of maybe one.
What that meant was that my childhood is largely just a shadow. I don't have any visualization of myself in, say, first grade. Or second grade, or third. There must be photos of me--or slides, somewhere in the collection of stuff my sister sent me from clearing out my parents' garage after their passing. But where? How do I sort through everything, or use the gadgets I bought for digitalizing what I find? I have a old few photos...I have one on my desk, with my mother standing in a pool, holding me in the face looking down, mostly the view of a helmet of brown hair. I look to be about five or six.
Who was that person? I can't remember those days; where I was, how I really felt. But if I had photos to bring back those moments, I could recapture my childhood, and the relationships that formed me.
And that is why I am a fanatic about photography. I want to capture, to freeze-frame, the moments of my life. To document, to preserve. I don't want my children to grow up, leaving me only shadows of their lives, and I don't want them to find themselves like me, feeling warm and nostalgic and yet only having some fuzzy intangible, a few distorted scene fragments, to cling to. I want to remember especially my children, my moments with them, my youth, my time of health and energy, because I don't want to let it go.
And yet...when I see my photos of years ago, the small children who reached for me, who craved me and who cried when I left them with caretakers, I am sad. Where are those children? I felt at the time that no mother could feel closer to her children, could have a more solid, indestructible bond, than I did with each of them. But, I was deceived. Each one grew, each one took a different direction, and needed me less and less, until now, viewing those toddler times does not bring joy in the past experience, but sadness in the loss of it.
I still take photos. I can't help it, because I still want to capture my life, to keep it from moving on. But more and more, I find myself an observer, capturing my surroundings for others. I take photos at a friend's wedding, documenting her moments of happiness. I take photos of visitors, delighting in viewing our city through fresh eyes. I take photos of trees and flowers and sunrises, because they are beautiful, and I want to remember their beauty, and yet, they mean little ultimately because, after all, I can always download beautiful trees, flowers and sunrises from the Internet. They may not be the flowers in my yard, or the azaleas at my park this springtime, but who can tell?
So far, I'm thrilled with my new camera. I'm in its learning curve, but eager to fill up another 2-gig photo card, download my pictures, and perfect each one with my software. Still, I see that at this late time of life, I can't take photos of my babies; there won't be more snuggles with my children eager to cuddle Mommy, and while I'm proud of what each of my children has become and hopeful about what each will accomplish, it's just not the same.
Still, my life is much more vivid because of my photos. With digital, I relive happy moments each time my screen saver slide-show kicks in. Sometimes I delay going out just to see a few more images on my screen, just to enjoy the colors, the composition, the recollections even of the last three years since I got a digital camera. Because of these innovations, I get far more pleasure out of my photography than I ever have. And that is something that makes me happy--admiring the world a second time; being brought to places and people and joy in a way unlike any other, because when triggered by a photo, I am there again. The people at my son's bar mitzvah. A day at the beach with a city backdrop. An array of hydrangeas excited to bring summer
There's a downside and an upside to photos, but on balance, it's better to savor and capture life than to let it fade. Now, if I can just get my children to be less weary of posing....