calamity's child

your transmission and your live wire

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ten things i’ve learned about grief this week:

  1. having a gratitude practice during grieving does not make the grieving go away, but it does make it much easier to go to sleep (my practice, started from some facebook meme, is just to list 3 things i’m grateful for each day).
  2. if you’ve managed to get through the week mostly having done all your work and keeping your shit together, it’s ok to spend shabbat sleeping until 10:30, not changing out of your pajamas, and watching endless episodes of wolfblood.
  3. sometimes “keeping your shit together” includes sobbing all over your chevruta during lifecycle beit midrash. this is ok because it means that the feelings are moving out of you. it is ok if your friends who were in beit midrash with you ask you later if you’re ok later or if you want a hug, because it means they were paying attention and they care, not that you are weak.
  4. you earn a prize for getting through the week. that prize is shabbat. you can spend it how you like. but on sunday you have to go back to work.
  5. using your friend’s made-up language with her will make you laugh and it will make you feel light and for the briefest of moments everything will be ok again. you will remember what it’s like for things to be ok.
  6. phones will be too much. having to guess at what people are feeling and match people’s feelings will be too much. it is ok to construct your environments so that you don’t have to do these things so much.
  7. you can hate everything if you want to. it’s ok.
  8. you can also love everything that you’ve worked so hard for at the same time. it won’t go away.
  9. it’s not fair. it will never be fair. be pissed as fuck about it. maybe now is the time to go shout at gd about how gddamn unfair it is?
  10. the 2 songs you’ve listened to on repeat this week are prayers. use them as prayers. sing them over and over. let them get in your skin. notice the lines that rise up each time you sing them. they will be different sometimes. it will help you keep track of how you are feeling, what stands out as most important. shouting at gd is still too scary: sing these songs as loud as you can in the car instead.


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lightening the load: an elul reflection

I was listening the other day to a Youtube video of Cheryl Strayed talk about and read from Wild to the North Cascades Institute in my homestate, Washington, in 2012. In it, she talks about having been asked by a reader:

Why didn’t you lighten your load, like, right off the bat? Those first couple weeks, you didn’t take anything out of your pack.

And she responds:

I didn’t know. I literally didn’t know. I just thought: maybe this is just how it is.

Maybe this is just how it is.

In my own time, in my own life, I have been processing grief and rage well stored up since 1988. That’s a lot of years. I’ve had times when I’ve thought about what it means to let go of the particular hard things I’ve experienced before, but I’ve processed (finally) through enough of the grief to be able to see the love and abundance that really exists around me. And now I’m hearing this question differently. I’ve been carrying around the metaphysical equivalent of a very heavy pack for 26 years. Much heavier than I need to have, because I didn’t learn how to pack my load from anyone, and I wasn’t particularly able to receive guidance from anyone until now. I just thought: maybe this is just how it is. I really didn’t know any better.

It is Elul. A period of reflection. Of equalizing. Of repairing relationships. Of lightening the load. The metaphysical scales in my life are not tipping yet. This will not be the Elul in which I work things out. It is, though, the Elul in which I can ask myself that first question: Why don’t you lighten your load?

We read Psalm 27 during Elul as we move through towards the Days of Awe. The last line reads:

:קַוֵּה, אֶל-יי:    חֲזַק, וְיַאֲמֵץ לִבֶּךָ; וְקַוֵּה, אֶל-יי.

Wait for Hashem. Be strong, let your heart be bold, and wait for Hashem.

I know I will take time to answer this question, why don’t you lighten your load? And that the next step after that question if I answer, ok, is: what will I let out of my pack? In the meantime, it is probably the best Elul practice I can manage to take these words of the Psalmist to heart. Be strong, let your heart be bold, and wait for Hashem.

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the things

1. i live in philly now, in a home firmly ensconced in trees. enough so that it is like living in a treehouse. i haven’t unpacked anything really – only the kitchen and my cookbooks and i put up my bed. that gives you a pretty firm sense of my priorities.

2. i started rabbinical school. technically only ulpan, an intensive immersion program in modern hebrew, to prepare me for the mekhinah (preparation) year at reconstructionist rabbinical college. mekhinah is like rabbinical kindergarten. which makes ulpan like rabbinical pre-school. i’m enjoying it very much.

3. the trajectory: i worked for four years in a fairly intense job as a case manager at a clinic in new york, working only with trans* folks. i didn’t have a break between that job and moving to philly and starting ulpan, and so this weekend i’m taking the best approximation of a vacation i can: staying in bed and watching All Of The Television.

4. suddenly, everything has changed.

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Kicked Out, a cross-post

I reviewed the Kicked Out anthology, edited by Sassafras Lowrey, this week, over at State of Formation where I am a sometimes-blogger. It’s a great blog, and awesome to get to review a book that has so much import in my personal and current professional life (as a case manager, as opposed to the professional life that is starting in three weeks as a rabbinic student) for a blog of religious leaders. Here it is, in two parts:

Kicked Out, A Review: Part One

Kicked Out, A Review: Part Two

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read this, immediately

I grew up with her music, with Mary telling it like it is–but gently, at nice, uncomplicated dinner parties, the kind with pasta and unintentionally mismatched placemats. I’m going to go ahead and argue that everything that went wrong in our lives can be traced back to that foolish moment where we decided we were too cool for adult contemporary country music.

Therefore, I submit: there is no moment in your life so painful that it cannot be made more bearable by a Mary Chapin Carpenter song.

A Woman For All Seasons: Mary Chapin Carpenter



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Counting the Omer with Locally Grown: A Cross Post

[crossposted from Young Jewish Brooklyn]

Tuesday starts the last week of our Omer counting. Are you ready? I’m not.  Not in the least.

The truth is, every year I start out with good intentions. Much like New Years wishes, my good intentions slowly dissolve, explained away by excuses: I am too tired, I forgot last night and this morning, it is too late at night, what number are we on again? and on and on. I’m not terribly good at this practice.

Start on the red space at the top right of the chart and wind your way down to the purple, and the colors going from right to left diagonally across the chart are the 7 colors of the rainbow. Everything else is a blend.

I’m not good at it, but I love it. I love the counting of the days, I love naming them. I love my friends’ made-up ways of counting. I love the Kabbalistic system for counting these days through the sefirot: Chesed (loving-kindness), Gevurah (strength), Tiferet (beauty), Netzach (endurance), Hod (humility), Yesod (foundation, bonding), and Malchut (divine presence). I love the calendars people come up with to mark these days, especially this beautiful spectrumed calendar. And mostly, I love that my most basic question from Pesach is given some shape: What do we do after the Exodus from Egypt? We wander, we count, we wait, and we work – we harvest: this sojourn leads us to Sinai, where, finally, we receive Torah. Wandering leads to wandering, leads to labor and harvesting, leads to diligence, leads – slowly – to Malchut, divine presence, revelation.

Divine presence (whatever that might mean to each of us individually, maybe the spirit of that which is larger than ourselves), is also the most concretely physical of these sefirot. Presence implies place and form: here with us, and not just idea or spirit but also, somehow, matter. What this presence is or means, I do not know. Most expansively, we are reflecting on what it means to be alive in this world, made holy, in the image of the divine; most concretely, we are reflecting on what it means to have been given words of wisdom in the Torah, to guide us on our way through this world. It’s not small, the ask.

Lately, my therapist has been having me explore what it might be like to feel just a drop of the love shown to me in my daily life really get through to me, under my skin and defenses and fear, to just-me. It’s a useful image for considering Malchut and being in the midst of the divine presence. What would it mean to take in just a drop of the idea of the divine presence, just enough so that questions and doubt don’t overpower us, and just sit there, with a sense of divine presence with, or within, us. What would it mean to take in just a drop everyday from now until Shavuot, so that at the time of receiving Torah, we are able to take it in a little deeper, a little more. What new things could be revealed to us about the world we live in, about the texts that guide us through it? What new things could we reveal to ourselves, about who we are in this world, and how, and why?

Malchut helps us to meditate on these questions. and to see through to the biggest picture of the Omer practice. It’s from this point that we can see what we’re moving towards more clearly. This week, try to take some time to check in with yourself and see  – what would it be like to take in this drop of a sense of something larger than yourself, or something divine, in? Reflect on the world through that drop of divine presence. See yourself, the people around you, your work, your innermost being, the struggles and joy of the world we live in, through that drop. And as you move on towards Sinai and revelation, see what it might feel like to do so with just the smallest drop of what is in store in your heart.

The counting, for these last nine nights of the Omer, we move from Yesod (foundation) to Malchut:

  • May 5 – Day 41: Hayom e-chad v’arbaim yom, shehaym chami-sha shavuot v’shi-sha yamim ba-omer
  • May 6 – Day 42: Ha-yom sh’nayim v’arbaim yom, shehaym shi-sha shavuot ba-omer
  • May 7 – Day 43: Ha-yom sh’losha v’arbaim yom, shehaym shi-sha shavuot v’yom e-chad ba-omer
  • May 8 – Day 44: Ha-yom arba-a v’arbaim yom, shehaym shi-sha shavuot ushnay yamim ba-omer
  • May 9 – Day 45: Ha-yom chami-sha v’arbaim yom, shehaym shi-sha shavuot u’shelosha yamim ba-omer
  • May 10 – Day 46: Ha-yom shi-sha v’arbaim yom, shehaym shi-sha shavuot v’arba-a yamim ba-omer
  • May 11 – Day 47: Ha-yom shiva v’arbaim yom, shehaym shi-sha shavuot va’chami-sha yamim ba-omer
  • May 12 – Day 48: Ha-yom shemonah v’arbaim yom, shehaym shi-sha shavuot v’shi-sha yamim ba-omer
  • May 13 – Day 49: Ha-yom tisha v’arbaim yom, shehaym shiv-a shavuot ba-omer

Looking for Shavuot plans still? Come to Shavuot Across Brooklyn, a huge community Shavuot hosted by Congregation Beth Elohim and sponsored by Altshul, Brooklyn Jews, Congregation Beth Elohim, Congregation Mount Sinai, Flatbush Jewish Center, Hannah Senesh Community Day School, Israelis in Brooklyn, Jewish Meditation Center of Brooklyn, Kolot Chayeinu, LABA, Locally Grown Shabbat, Mishkan Minyan, Moishe House, Park Slope Jewish Center, Prospect Heights Shul, Shir HaMaalot, and Union Temple.

[see previous weeks' reflections at Young Jewish Brooklyn]


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