A Scrutiny of Silence

Posted in Uncategorized on November 6, 2011 by jganolik

As many of you may know, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur have recenly passed, which means that, in the Jewish perspective, the universe is one year older. That, and we’ve all got remnants of the break fast feast in the refrigerator (ok hopefully this is not the case, because if it were, said remnants would be really moldy), and forgiveness on the mind.

My mind was already on forgiveness before Yom Kippur, not because I wronged anyone terribly (at least I hope that’s not the case), but because I recently finished reading Nicole Krauss’ The History of Love, which takes some very interesting angles on forgiveness. This book includes several different narratives, all of which revolve around an eponymous novel within the novel. For example, one story is narrated by a girl whose mother has been recruited, by a man she has never met, to translate The History of Love from Spanish to English, and another is about the author of the novel who has no idea that his friend plagiarized him and published the work. Krauss’ novel jumps from story to story and punctuates it all with excerpts of The History of Love, itself.

One excerpt of the novel within the novel talks about how the first language of humans was made up of only gestures. During this time, called “The Age of Silence,” individuals actually communicated more, and more effectively, than they do now. That said, often one gesture would be mistaken for another and giant misunderstandings would arise:

“There were times when a finger might have been lifted to scratch a nose and if casual eye contact was made with one’s lover just then, the lover might accidentally take it to be the gesture, not at all dissimilar for Now I realize I was wrong to love you.” (pg. 72) The people who lived during the age of silence, according to Krauss, were used to these misunderstandings because they happened so often. “Because of the frequency of these mistakes, over time the gesture for asking forgiveness evolved into the simplest form. Just to open your palm was to say, ‘forgive me.’” (73). The mind and the body were much more connected during the age of silence, as opposed to nowadays when an individual’s words and body language can be so contradictory.

It a way, we live in an age of silence today. This is not to say that nobody speaks, as was the case in Krauss’ age, but rather that everyone is always speaking, but hardly ever out loud. Nowadays people type at the top of their lungs on Facebook, Twitter and text messaging. There is a dearth of “face time” as Apple likes to call it, and most of the time when people do talk face to face, there is still a computer screen and several hundred miles between them.

In our age of silence, miscommunications happen all the time, as a result of a missing emoticon or a sarcastic tone taken the wrong way. But the difference is that these miscommunications are not often resolved quickly and sometimes people are unaware of a tragic error in translation when it occurs.

I think we in today’s world can learn a lot from the Age of Silence in Krauss’ book. For example, it is beneficial to take time to think about how our typed words have affected others- to ask, how many of my emails have unintentionally incited anger in a friend or coworker? Or how many times have I received a text message and gotten angry at its insensitivity, yet later learned that that it was supposed to be a joke. As difficult as it is to say, sometimes a simple “I’m sorry” can solve a lot.

Another thing we can learn is that whenever possible, it is important to have face-to-face or at least over-the-phone conversations. Chances are, you have a handful of friends who you haven’t spoken to- I mean actually spoken to- in weeks or months. So the next time you are mid text or email, stop typing and call the person, plan a coffee or dinner date, and make your way into the age of sound.

The Secrets to Starting Over

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 25, 2011 by jganolik

Every so often, life (or at least my life) calls for a refurbishment. I feel the need at those instances to shake out rugs, reorganize drawers, put up new paintings, and fix any squeaky or rusty parts of my brain and/or belongings. Such times usually emerge in conjunction with a new job, breakup, relocation, or other large or small life event. The following is a list of tactics I like to use whenever I crave change.


1. Make lots of lists.
See? I’m already following my own advice. Make a list of the things you would like to accomplish in the next few months, a list of the things you would do if money/time were not an issue, a list of the traits you like about yourself and the traits you would change about yourself, of books you’ve always wanted to read, movies you’ve wanted to watch, and places you’ve always wanted to visit.

2. Tackle one item (or part of one item) from one of those lists per day. If applying for grad school is on your list of things to accomplish, go sign up for the GRE’s and start researching schools. Borrow one of the books on your to read list from the library or watch one of the movies on your movie list. Just remember that while it’s easy to get sucked into a book, movie, or TV show and pretend it is real life, it is important to stay totally present within your own life.

3. Plan a trip. Make arrangements to visit a friend or just pick a time to take a road trip, ideally to somewhere you’ve never been before. If lack of paid time off is an issue, go somewhere close by, and if time is an obstacle you can always do what I do and travel vicariously through books. For instance, the last time I was craving an across-the-country road trip, I decided to re-read On the Road by Jack Kerouac, and just recently I started Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig.

4. Sign up for a class you’ve always wanted to take. I find that life’s transitional periods are when I feel the most creative. So, sign up for a painting class if you haven’t painted since college and want to get back into it, a writing class, a foreign language class, or anything else that interests you.

5. Put together a playlist of new music. It’s difficult to start a new phase of your life when your itunes library is filled with songs that contain old and sometimes exhausted memories. Check out a website like last.fm or Spotify. You are bound to discover new artists that you’ve never heard of, or old artists with new albums, so download some of their songs and make yourself a play list for the new season.

6. Get active. Yes, I’m sure you’ve heard from all corners of the internet that exercise is the best way to feel your best, and that’s because it’s true. Get out for a walk, run, or bicycle ride outside (or at the gym), and motivate yourself with some of your new music. If you’re convinced that you lack the drive, get an exercise buddy or join a fitness class.

7. Give yourself a makeover. You most likely feel different, so why not give yourself a new look to match. A couple years ago I cut my hair really short for the first time and it made me feel and act like a new, more confident person. Also, the feedback from friends and family was a welcome boost.

8. Be present. The most important part of change is the act of experiencing it. Try not to dwell on where you were or where you’re going, but rather enjoy the process of getting from here to there. Also, make sure to stay aware of the world around you. If you don’t already, read the news throughout the day and tune into blogs/podcasts/radio shows in the area(s) of your interest.

If you got this far, it probably means that you’re in a place similar to me, so go out there and become the new you: You 2.0. And if you discover any tactics that must be added to the list, let me know.

Mislead by Milton Bradley

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on July 21, 2011 by jganolik

It has been more than a year since I transferred that tassel to the left side of my hat, and I thought that most of my “what next?” themed questions would have answers by now. Well I regret to inform you, recent college graduates, that unless you experience some freaky luck and stumble across your dream career moments after you accept that diploma, the question, “what next?” is not resolved all that quickly.

Several of my friends who just graduated this past spring have said, “I am so glad that school is over, but it’s been a month and a half and I can’t bring myself to start searching for jobs.” What makes that first application so difficult to send and that first networking call so hard to dial?

After about sixteen years of school, here is this open expanse of time that can be approached in so many different ways. A college graduate could start spewing resumes and cover letters to every employer in sight, regardless of field, could go back to school to become more “qualified.” He or she might even choose to pack up a backpack and take a trip around the world. There are so many options that I think a lot of people just feel stuck, as if any move they make will be in the wrong direction.

I never worried too much during college about what I would end up doing with my life because I always figured there would be some day that I would wake up and know. I thought that after college I would stuff myself with lots of healthy life experiences and career possibilities and then one morning just realize that I want to be, say, a teacher, or a saleswoman, or a lawyer.

It has oddly taken a long time for me to conclude that there will not be a day when I wake up and find a gavel in my hand or a stethoscope around my neck. I think Milton Bradley’s “The Game of Life” was the cause of this long-lasting delusion of mine. It would be so easy to pick a card or roll a die and have that determine your career, husband, and whether your house will be a Tudor or a mansion, wouldn’t it?

Yes, but I am learning that the search has its advantages as well. It can be challenging and exhilarating to try on different jobs, choose where to live and who to live with. The time immediately after college is all about making difficult decisions about what you can and can’t live without.

I am also learning that the college graduate needs to have patience. He or she will have to work hard, expect crazy hours of pointless collating and stapling at the beginning, know that there will always be horrible and fantastic days to come. And at the end of each of those days, there will always be a choice:

“What next?”

Perhaps I’ll never have a final answer to that question. Maybe that’s a good thing, although sadly it means that I won’t ever make it to Countryside Acres or Millionaire Estates.

Passover in the Age of Fad Diets

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 24, 2011 by jganolik

Nowadays when a person avoids bread, one of the first explanations is the Atkins diet. Flour-less chocolate cake is likewise associated with a gluten free lifestyle. So what really differentiates the Jew observing Passover from the non-Jews trying desperately to improve their health and/or physical appearances?

The Passover diet is meant to mimic the condition of the Jews who raced millions of years ago out of Egypt before their bread could to rise, and on Passover the Jewish tradition teaches Jews to imagine that they personally made the journey out of slavery in Egypt to the promised land, Canaan. Some modern Hagaddot (Passover ritual guides) have slightly different teachings. They define the slavery in Egypt as “Mitzrayim” or “narrow passages.” Therefore, instead of pretending that we Jews were all personally slaves in Egypt, we at the Passover Seder table are instructed to think about a time when we were in dire straights, when we moved from a place of emotional slavery to one of freedom.

This could be anything from a change in career to a decision to end a relationship or a move to a new city. It can and has also been applied to the Black and Women’s equality movements, or even the current goings on in the Middle East. The list goes on. Not only does this modern interpretation make the Passover story relevant to the present day, but it also makes it apply to all of society—not just Jews. “This year, we are here, next year may we celebrate in the land of Israel,” are the words that end the Passover ritual. This can either be read as a literal hope that next year we will have our next Seder in Israel or a symbolic plan to be in a better place next year than we are this year.

It is because of Passover’s relevance to all people that it strikes me as significant that the Passover diet has become easier to keep in recent days. This is of course because many Americans are on some sort of wacky diet. It is now easy to find carb-less this and bread free that. I will sorrowfully admit that when I noticed the holiday was nearing, a small part of me thought, “oh good, this gives me a chance to cut back on my carbs.” Passover’s diet is very different from a no-carb diet though. It seems more mentally than physically healthy as, in the modern mindset, it is in place to remind us of our triumphs and to encourage us to plan for future successes. We do not follow it in order to improve our digestive systems. Anyone who has gone 8 days eating matzoh is well aware of that.

On the other hand, a diet meant to alter one’s health or appearance can be seen as physically healthy but not entirely mentally healthy. That sort of diet often reminds the dieter that he or she wants to change him or herself. The restrictions may help the dieter plan for future successes (lost weight, lower cholesteral, etc.) but they do not serve to celebrate past ones.

I have grown to better appreciate Pesach’s menu rules but there are certain things that bother me about them. Along with bread, peas and green beans are also prohibited, along with pasta, peanut butter, all grains, rice, and corn products. The reasons given for all these restrictions range from the fact that pasta expands in a similar way to how bread rises to that corn and other crops grow so close to wheat fields that it’s easy to mistake them for wheat. And why is it that Sephardic (Spanish) Jews can eat rice and legumes while Ashkenazim (Western and Central European Jews) cannot? I have never entirely understood how all of these rules could have been born out of one instance of under-baked bread.

But all criticism and questions aside, I think Passover is a very significant holiday: one in which we join together with family and friends, challenge our bodies, and examine the ways in which we and the rest of the world’s people are currently enslaved and the ways in which we are also free.

Spring Fake-cation

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 26, 2011 by jganolik

It struck me the other day, possibly because I’ve been running a lot lately, that college felt a bit like interval training: it included a lot of intense sprints (i.e. the pulling of all-nighters to bang out papers and cram for tests), followed by recovery periods (sleeping until noon, fall pause, spring break). The real world, on the other hand, is like endurance work: it moves at a steady pace and offers little to no recovery time apart from weekends and personal days. Sometimes the pace picks up or slows down and sometimes you do become exhausted, but you know it is necessary to keep on moving until you find that comfortable speed again. If only my physical running skills could help me train for this new after-college lifestyle.

I said in a past entry that the first snowfall away from school would be probably be the first big step toward my realization that I am not going back to school (undergraduate school, I mean). Well, the approach of spring seems to be the second. Spring air has always carried the scent of upcoming freedom, whether it be summer vacation, the end of the finals, or graduation. Even as a college graduate, I can still feel scraps of that anticipation and excitement from last year and all the years before. It will be a challenge to come to terms with how these feelings are not no longer attached to a prolonged vacation, and with how I am now a part a world in which sweaty weather is always at contrast with the artificial cold of office air.

It will take a few years before I will be able to detach “spring” from “break” and “summer” from “vacation,” but I have already begun to learn about other notable things that come with the two seasons aside from freedom. With spring comes eating lunch outside, for instance, and farmers markets, the beginning of the outdoor racing season, and the time that people enroll in those outdoor “fitness bootcamps” to whip their bodies into shape for the summer. And I assume that with summer will come late sunsets, new music, windblown car rides, and an overall feeling of optimism.

So maybe spring and summer will no longer feature that often fantasized about “end in sight.” Maybe I will spend my first two or three real world springs and summers longing for a few lazy months without work, and jealous of those that get to enjoy such a time (I’m sure I will). Even so, I am excited to uncover a new set of spring and summer rituals to wedge between my working hours.

New Week’s Resolution

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on January 23, 2011 by jganolik

Around New Year’s Day of last year, I wrote a post about how most people make new years resolutions related to fitness and losing weight. I said that many make the decision to join a gym, and for the first week of the new year, they are gung ho about fitness. They are one with the treadmill and eliptical, and they have predicted how many pounds they will be able to bench press by “this time next year.” That lasts for about a week and then they go back to the exercise routine that they were on a week before Christmas: namely none. I said all of this last year and poked fun at those flaky fitness folks only to find that this year my resolution was exercize related. Yes, yes, I am a hypocrite.

Anyway, I made the decision that, to avoid the work out excuses that tend to form in the evening hours, I would start working out in the morning. It was foolproof: not only would I get my workout over with before the workday began, but I would be able to make plans with friends in the evenings without feeling any guilt whatsoever.

I went through with it for a week, and it was great: I got to see the sun rise, something I have not seen since I was in high school, I got to watch the morning news. I knew the weather, traffic report, and the scoop about who murdered who before most people hit the snooze button on their alarm clocks. The most interesting thing I learned was that whoever manages the closed captioning for the morning news types at the same time as the news personalities talk. And let me tell you, that person would have flunked Mario teaches typing.

I felt energized, I felt accomplished, I felt like I had discovered an hour of the day that I could call my own. So why did it only last a week? And how can I revisit this crazy yet logical routine change? It only lasted a week because one, I did not want to deal with untreated ice on the roads, especially since the breaks on my tiny Honda do not get along well with frozen liquids, and two, because the second I looked at my bed every evening last week, without warning or explanation, I found myself in my pajamas and under the covers with my alarm clock programmed to my normal wake up time. Just like magic.

This week is a new week though, and by that I mean, I will make my second entrance to the morning workout world. Weather permitting of course. And there you have it: my New Week’s resolution. Stay tuned for the full report.

Playing House

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on January 9, 2011 by jganolik

The other day I told a friend about my plan to decorate one of the walls in my apartment with painted tiles.

“You have an apartment?” she asked, with an excited gasp, “Since when? Where is it?”

“Oh you know,” I said. “Some days it is in Philadelphia. Other days Washington DC, and every so often in London or Paris.” For an instant I thought I could fool her into thinking that I had invested in seasonal homes.

“Oh,” she said.

“I’ll have it soon,” I said. “In a year or two. I’m in the preliminary planning stage now.”

By “preliminary planning stage,” I meant that I had spent hours flipping through pages of Crate and Barrel catalogues, pacing around the fake bedrooms at Anthropologie, and looking up “artsy coasters” and “kitchen wall decorations” on the web. I think step two may be to hold a hypothetical dinner party at one or more of IKEA’s kitchen tables. But all in good time.

It’s only natural that, since I’ve been spending so much time around people who have their own apartments, I’ve begun to mentally design my future one. The interior of the place changes as often as its location does: sometimes it is Asian themed, with bamboo sticks in vases and framed flower prints or Chinese lettering on the walls, and other times it is filled with prints by Kandinsky, Rothko, or Chagall.

The newest version, the one I tried to explain to my friend, has an elaborate scattered tile collage on one of its walls, inspired by tilework that I saw at an Indian restaurant a couple weeks ago.

The piece that I’m the most excited about is the bookcase. Yes, I know this makes me sound like a huge nerd, but the bookcase is going to be the most prominent piece in the apartment. It will have asymmetrical shelves, some of which will hold books and others which will display various storage bins and chachkes. I just need to figure out where to put it.

I could be conventional and put it against the wall:

I could let it join forces with the TV and be a bookcase slash entertainment center:

Or, if I’m really pressed for space, I could do what any rational decorator would do, and mount the case on the ceiling:

I always make sure that my friends are in the loop about the apartment’s current decor. And either because they are invested in the project, or because they’re tired of listening to me ramble on about this fictional abode, a couple of them have given me real objects that I can use once I move in.

These quirky champagne glasses, for example:

And these snazzy “London” plates:

Of course, the rest of the furniture, kitchen supplies, artwork, and lighting fixtures are stowed away in a folder on my computer desktop titled, “Apartment dreams.” If only I could upload them into life-size forms for free. But hey, you never know, by the time I sit down and sign my lease, there might be an Ap for that.

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