Sunday, February 25, 2007

Want to Want

What do you want?

A friend of mine asked me this question the other day, and I had no idea what he meant. But I felt an enormous surge of panic that left me speechless, with a terrified look on my face. Fortunately, my friend simply wanted to know what kind of food I wanted to eat (we had dinner plans), but I remained more than a little disturbed by my instinctive, yet noticeably uncomfortable initial response to hearing those words.

And so today, as I was driving in my car, it occurred to me that I typically find myself saying that I want to want something, as opposed to simply wanting it. And yet, when I was in my early twenties, I often, and with ease, found myself articulating very specific wants -- everything from Mexican food to religious beliefs to the precise details of the man I would potentially marry. Now, however, despite the fact that I am in my last year of my twenties and presumably -- as I get ready to finish my PhD this year -- wiser and more educated, I can't even decide whether I want Mexican or Indian food for dinner, whether I want to be Jewish or Christian (which is why I sometimes claim both, though always primarily Jewish), or whether I want it to be winter or summer.

Have I, in some way, regressed intellectually or psychologically?

I often say that things were simpler when I knew less. I knew exactly what I wanted. The world was without shades of gray and glorious nuances. And yet, if I look back, like Lot's wife, it's not that I long for my old life, but for the certainty and stability that is rarely to be found in the grays -- much like Lot's wife did not look back on her burning city because she missed the life she had there, but because it was her home, where she had come from (not to mention the fact that she left two daughters behind, and perhaps gazed back thinking of them).

So what is it that I want to want, exactly? And what does it really mean, what do we really mean, when we say that we want to want something? A couple of years ago, as I contemplated ending a long-term relationship, a close friend asked me, "Do you want to be with him?" My response was, of course, "I want to want to be with him. I really do." She responded, "Then you don't want to be with him." Then why did I wish that I wanted to be with him, if I didn't really want to be with him? So I guess the question, then is not what I want, but why I (and other people like me) sometimes feel the need to complicate things. And, then again, maybe that is still the wrong question. Maybe things really are always already that complicated.

Now my brain hurts.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Seized by a Madness

I received a package the other day from my mother, and I've only just today gotten around to opening it. For the most part, it contained items I had left at my parents' home over the winter break. But there were a few interesting, if slightly strange, odds and ends she added to the package.

The most interesting was a newspaper clipping (from I don't know when) about new research that says "older" men (in their 40s and higher) may father more autistic children. The research apparently involved about 130,000 Israeli Jews born in the 1980s, and those fathered by older men were almost six times more likely to have autism than those fathered by men under 39.

Why did she send this to me?

If this wasn't random enough, at the end of the article, there was a "thought for the day" that I found fascinating, if somewhat peculiar in the larger context of the piece it happened to follow:

"Those who foresee the future and recognize it as tragic are often seized by a madness which forces them to commit the very acts which makes it certain that what they dread shall happen." (It's a quote from Rebecca West)

Why do I feel as if this message is meant precisely for me?

Some other items in my package were the following:

1. A writing pen that has a button on it. When I push the button, the character Michael, from that show "The Office" says either "These are my party planning beeyatches" or "This is an environment of welcoming, and you should just get the hell out of here."

2. Another newspaper clipping -- about a woman in LA who was fined $97,500 because her Maltese puppy would not stop barking.

3. A flyer for some kind of award for the best dissertation in Jewish Studies.

4. A postcard with a picture of four women in dark glasses; it says "Bad Girls Book Club: Where half the group doesn't read the book, and the other half doesn't even show up!"

Now, I simply struggle to make sense of everything!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Cuban Jews

There's an interesting piece in the New York Times today about the small Jewish community (no more than 1500 Jews) in modern-day Cuba. The picture above here is also taken from the piece, and depicts a Havana street from inside the only kosher butcher shop in Cuba. It offsets the piece from earlier this week (see my post below), which accuses some American Jews of fueling anti-Semitism, in an interesting way. Jews in Cuba, it seems, have different concerns -- apparently there is not one rabbi living in Cuba. Before 1959, when Castro came to power, there were more than 15,000 Jews living on the island, most of whom fled once private business and property were nationalized. The article quotes one Cuban historian as saying, “To be Cuban and Jewish is to be twice survivors.”