Category Archives: The Daily Think

The Daily Think: Talent != Passion

There’s this paradox in art that the more personal the work, the more universal it becomes. It’s the answer to the artist who tries to make “relatable” work and ultimately falls flat despite great effort to address the human condition. Ultimately, the only condition anyone knows is their own, so attempts to capture the condition of anyone else read false. All conditions are pretty much the same condition. Everyone just has a different way in.

I know a lot of talented artists whose work gets a lot of attention. Maybe not great fame, but a following. Maybe never more than a hobby, but a hobby that gets recognized. Yet, despite being told how talented I am more times than I can count since I was ten years old, nothing I’ve done has ever gotten much of a following. I crack myself up, but I don’t get retweeted. I make myself think and cry, but the blogs I’ve had over the years seldom get a comment.

This makes me wonder if I’ve been lying all along, if there’s something about being me that I just don’t get, so no one else does either. The one thing that my colleagues and friends have in common that I don’t is that they can sustain their passions. Writing is only a passion for me when I’m actually doing it, but the reality is that I’ve spent much more of my life not writing than I have writing.

It’s taken me thirty years and a masters degree to start making peace with the idea that talent isn’t the same as passion. Some talents have the passion of a lifelong romance, some talents have the passion of a fling, and some talents are an awkward couple of dates. Perhaps that’s the lie that I’ve been telling in my writing all along, that a fling would last forever when I know it won’t. I can only hope that by letting it go I have an opportunity to find my true love.

The Daily Think: The Big Boss

The sign in front of the church read, “WORK FOR THE LORD! THE RETIREMENT BENEFITS ARE OUT OF THIS WORLD!” I’m not much of a god person, but I appreciate a good, clever church sign (even the hokey ones) as much as anyone, and it gave me a smile on my drive home from getting groceries.

Giant has stopped selling Tofutti cream cheese in favor of Greek-style cream cheese, which annoyed me as much as it amused me because that was the worst thing that happened to me today. I really have nothing to complain about.

Anyway, something about the church sign stuck with me. In the midst of the vocational chaos that has seemed to take over my life lately, I thought, “Wait, who do I work for again?”

There’s a saw among the new-agey spiritual types that your work, whatever it is, is your ministry. Not everyone is made to be in a “spiritual” vocation, or needs to be. Some deeply spiritual people are accountants and hospital administrators and cashiers. But the instruction goes that your work is your ministry, no matter what is, not matter how rote or pedestrian the tasks. Your work is your ministry.

I took that to heart many years ago, but somehow lost sight of it. It was easier when I was teaching, of course, and easier at times when I had a “fun” job. It’s less easy now, but that is the point, I suppose. It doesn’t mean I need to stay in chaos, but while I’m here I need to remind myself: “Who do I really work for?”

The Daily Think: Hard to Say I’m Sorry

The past few weeks have been the most difficult of my professional life. The strain of it has left me not at my best: grumpy, listless, unfocused, and having difficulty finding time and attention for the most important people. I’ve had to do a lot of apologizing for it, which I don’t like. It’s not that I have trouble apologizing. When I know or even suspect that something I’ve done or said has caused someone harm, an apology is my natural first response. A sincere apology isn’t particularly comfortable, but it is a relief. An apology doesn’t necessarily fix things, but it is the first part of a correction. It is in many ways empowering.

Yet, the apologies I’ve been offering lately just felt burdensome and left me feeling worse. I was ruminating on this after a particularly apology filled weekend, that in addition to all of the professional stress, here I am having to apologize for it, too. The feeling was uncomfortably familiar and confining, one of those sensations that took me out of myself and made me wonder, “What am I doing here again?” Then I got mad and kind of self-righteous. Why the hell am I apologizing like I did something wrong? Why can’t someone just cut me a break and let me be stressed out for a while?

When I started to answer my own questions (because I was the only one having the conversation) this became clear: I was the only one having the conversation. No one had actually asked me for an apology and the people close to me were trucking right along and being perfectly nice. I didn’t owe any of them an apology. I owed them my gratitude. The only one not cutting me a break was me.

So, I decided to try it out. The next night I was spending time with a special fellow, and I thanked him for being so great to me when I’m not at my best. His response was to continue to be great, and instead of me focusing on my own stressed-out shortcomings for the rest of the evening, I actually had a nice time, albeit a very tired nice time.

It’s cliche when I try to put it into words, but these are things I seem to need to keep learning, no matter how damn evolved I get. There is this snake eating its own tail, where I hold myself to ridiculously high standards, like not having normal emotional reactions to difficult situations (drama, heaven forbid!), and then end up surrounded by people who really like that, and need me to be perfect and steady all the time. Then I get lonely because I have to stuff down all the humanness. Then I collapse, the people who can’t handle it flee, and I’m even lonelier and have to go be perfect and cool at some new people. And on it goes. The reality is that the people who have stuck with me for many, many years are the people I’ve never had to be perfect for anyway. They’re the ones who I bitched and complained and was human at all the time when I felt stifled and lonely. I’m so grateful for them.

This is my new idea: gratitude first, apologies second and only as needed. If you’re out there and haven’t gotten my gratitude yet – some of you know who you are and some don’t – thank you.

The Daily Think: THE HOLIDAYS

When I was younger there was a grumpy conversation that my parents would have each year in late August or early September about what we were going to do for THE HOLIDAYS. THE HOLIDAYS were always hanging there in the Spring and Fall, like some giant cobweb in the basement that you could only duck around so many times before you had to get to the washing machine or the box of extension cords.

Being Jewish in a primarily non-Jewish world is inconvenient. Holidays fall in the middle of the week and you don’t get time off. If you want to take time off, it means taking a vacation day from work or missing a day or two of school. I was raised mostly a-religiously; my parents didn’t care much about the religious aspect of THE HOLIDAYS. The discussion was more about how to make their parents happy, coordinating time off in the middle of the week for a schlep to Baltimore, or disappointing their parents who wanted all of us to be together. Some years one or both of them would fast on Yom Kippur, mostly out of guilt, some years not. I had a Bat Mitzvah mostly to appease the older members of my family.

“You’ll be glad you did it when you’re older,” my mother would say, as I argued against taking part in what seemed like a ridiculous production. “It will mean something to you then.” This went on for months with no effect – I didn’t foresee myself finding a Bat Mitzvah meaningful and I think she knew I was right. As the big day drew near and I was ready to bail, her argument changed to, “If you don’t do this, I will never hear the end of it from your grandparents, so would you please just do this for me?” I couldn’t argue with that logic.

Behold, over two and a half decades later, at a time in life known for its nostalgia and longing, I have no attachment to my Bat Mitzvah. The only thing I got out of it, other than some money that I eventually put toward car insurance when I was seventeen and bonds that matured in time for me to use for a deposit on an apartment after my first divorce, is one really funny picture of all four of my grandparents. My grandfathers are both staring at nothing with conciliatory, stiff smiles, while my two grandmothers are leaning across each other gesturing wildly in opposite directions and ordering someone around somewhere off camera. That picture is still packed, but I can see it in my head and I’m smiling just thinking about it.

So, the grumpy conversation would happen late every summer, and a few weeks later we’d pile into the car on some weirdly hot September morning and make the two and half hour drive from Philly to Baltimore for THE HOLIDAYS. For a day, I would witness my parents transforming back into teenagers (although I didn’t know then that was what was happening). My mom helped make things nice while muttering snarky and usually hilarious, un-momlike things, my dad would get sullen and awkward, my grandparents would be happy, the TV would be too loud, and I… I have no idea what I did. I was just along for the ride. I think I read. Or moved from TV to TV. I half listened to the conversations around me and gave short answers to inquisitive relatives.

Two of my grandparents are gone now. The two who are left didn’t even ask about the holidays this year. I don’t miss the grumpy schleps and I don’t miss being a teenager. I’m still not religious, but the culture of my upbringing feels like home in a way that nothing else does. Today I was at my desk from 9:15 to 6:50, with breaks to have a bagel, let the dogs out, and do some laundry. It felt empty. Kind of sterile, like being in a model house. Low, as if all of my energy were being taken up by some alternate universe version of me, who instead of dating men who found Jewish women to be a novelty, met a nice Jewish boy in my mid-twenties, had three kids and now lives in a comfortable house in Mt. Washington, content.

Model houses always have kids’ rooms set up. With all the times I’ve moved, I’ve walked through a lot of them. They also have nice furniture and upgraded molding and appliances, but there is always, always a kid’s room, sometimes two depending on the size of the house. That’s how you sell a home.

What model houses don’t have are cobwebs in the basement. The basements are clean and empty, a space where, at the end of the tour, you can imagine a playroom, or a workshop, or an exercise room, or an office, or a place where you swear this time you won’t stash all of your junk, even though you probably will.

The Daily Think: Stuff

I spent a lot of time this weekend getting rid of stuff, organizing stuff, and cleaning stuff. It seems weird to need to get rid of stuff when I just moved (and did the accompanying stuff purge) less than five months ago.

The house in which I live and work is 1,070 square feet and the space feels extravagant. There is stuff in the closets but nothing bursting. Still, there’s enough stuff in here to make me claustrophobic, and I had been eagerly awaiting this weekend off to get rid of the stuff that is cluttering up my space. But, when it was all done, I had one large box of things to give away and one large box of stuff to recycle from my office. It was far less than I expected.

I’ve long had this minimalist dream, in which I have a basic uniform that occupies one small closet, and nothing that is non-functional unless it is really intensely delightful. At the same time, when I think about the stuff I have too much of – clothes, shoes, coats, doodads – I recognize that amassing them was a form of self expression. This is who I am. A dainty vintage dress. Combat boots. Sexy heels. Glass birds.

What a privileged problem to have. As I round the corner to forty, perhaps the resolution of my stuff-angst and claustrophobia is channeling all of that self-expression more creatively, or at least in a way that is more fulfilling.

The Daily Think: Aggression

Loud music in public is an aggressive act. Whether consciously or not, the person who cranks up the music in their car, backyard, motorcycle, or on the phone they’re carrying around, assumes that what they want to hear is more important than what anyone else within several feet or a few blocks wants to hear. It’s different from any other form of expression because it involves other people against their will; I can choose to look away from someone’s creepy shirt or offensive bumper sticker, but I can’t stop hearing their shitty music. That’s what irritates me most – not that I have to listen to something I don’t like for two minutes at a stoplight, but that it’s such an invasion.

Now get off my lawn.

The Daily Think: Basics

Spend enough time in any spiritual practice where you really get to know your own mind – meditation, yoga, certain kinds of prayer – and a magical thing starts to happen: you start to make magical things happen.

I’ve manifested lots of great things in my life. Actual things: like a nice house to live in, and non-thing things, like passion and enchantment.

Lately, I’ve recognized the need to get the manifesting machine going in a big way. I’ve been waiting to feel settled in from a move a few months ago, but if anything the chaos has compounded and I’m less settled. For at least a month or two, perhaps longer, I’ve been waking up every morning with a mind like a blast furnace. Yet, despite the cacophony every morning, I lay there until the last possible moment, unable to get my day moving.

I know something needs to change. I have a sense of what it is. I just haven’t figured out the marching orders. I was ruminating on this today, wondering again and again, “Why I can’t I figure out what I need to do? I’m not at peace. I need to do something. Why can’t I figure it out?” While unloading the dishwasher, I realized I’d been answering my own question: I can’t figure it out because I’m not at peace and I need to do something.

It’s such a simple thing, and so obvious that it’s cliche: you can’t fix something until you make peace with it, what you resist persists, etc. It’s still so easy to forget. And when peace is forgotten, even spiritual, empowering practices are reactive and create chaos.

Of note here is that this is one of several epiphanies I’ve had while while emptying the dishwasher. It’s a good appliance for me.

The Daily Think: Purpose

This is what inspired the daily think, for however long it lasts.

Sure, it’s seemingly simplistic southern California new age nonsense. But, there is also something to be said for going with whatever comes up in the moment, no matter how ridiculous it seems.

For me, as has always been the case, what came up in the moment of watching this video – what moves me and makes me me – isn’t anything that translates into a clear vocation. I’m envious of people who have a clear calling, one type of job that is superbly suited to them above all others, whether they are artists or accountants or at-home parents or doctors. They have a direction I lack. All I can do is be grateful for the mixed blessing of many, many options, of many, many things that I am sort of good at, or can at least fake.

At eighteen I fretted terribly about which direction my life should take, as if it were some binary and I had to choose the one right thing or suffer the consequences. I made a lot of binary choices: this school or that school, this guy or that guy, this job or that job. Twenty-one years later the worst thing happened! I still don’t know what to do! I’m rolling up on forty with no idea what I want to be when I grow up. Three college majors, a handful of professional certificates, and a masters degree, and I’m still just as stumped as I was when I was eighteen.

Yet, despite having no clear path or direction, I’ve gotten up every day, been through the usual bumps and bruises of life, and still have a roof over my head and people I like around me. Life happened anyway, every moment that I was worrying about whether I was doing it right. Somehow I’m better off than I was.

Having some big conclusion about my life’s purpose as I write this would be neat, but as far I can tell, this is it as far as purpose goes for now. Just getting the thoughts down and being some good company for other people in similar circumstances.

The Daily Think: Personality

During a walk last night, I pictured all four of my grandparents hovering in front of me, a set of animated marble busts hanging in the night air and watching me go in circles around the lake. I was fortunate to know all of them long enough in life that I could really know their personalities. My father’s father passed when I was 16, my mother’s mother when I was 26, and my other two grandparents are alive with fully functioning opinions at 92 and 98.

Imagining all four of them there in front of me and their four distinct personalities, I registered in a new sort of way that I am a combination of all four of those personalities, filtered through the time and culture into which I chanced to be born. The peacemaker and the stoic, the lady who lunches and the creative weirdo in the fez who watches the live stream of local funerals. The personality of me and of anyone is so arbitrary, so utterly random. It matters less than it seems. What is real is so much simpler than that.