A good nap spoiled

Sarah and I saw Red at the Arena Stage tonight, and it received a standing ovation from the majority of the crowd present.

Personally, I thought it was a poorly written, nearly plotless play about an unlikable, pretentious artist. The play dripped with condescension toward those who disagree with whatever art fad is currently in fashion, and both lauded and legitimized the view that only the artist can determine the “proper” customers of his (or her) art.

I know little about the real-life Rothko, although I know that I do not like his work – the vibrancy, pulsing, and other terms which are usually applied to it is utterly invisible to me. When compared to his contemporary René Magritte, Rothko’s deficiency becomes painfully obvious. However, if he was as unpleasant as this play makes him seem, then I’m particularly surprised that anyone was willing to give him the time of day, much less treat him as part of a new artistic vanguard.

Sarah thought the play was somewhere between “ok” and “pretty good,” so she had a significantly higher opinion of it than it did, but she likewise was surprised by the ovation.

Given the audience’s reaction, I can tell that my opinion is in the minority (singularity?) on this. Whether this is me expressing my philistinic lack of cultured appreciation or describing the emperor’s nakedness is obviously in the eye of the beholder.

Dynamic Tension

Freefall captures precisely a tension I experience – when the question was asked of RDBF “could Commander Data convert to Judaism?” his answer was “yes, assuming that he could (a) survive immersion in a mikvah, and (b) understand kabbalat ol mitzvot” (acceptance of the yoke of the commandments). So in that way, the current guidance is that traditional Jewish thought would place a greater differentiation between man and woman than between human and non-human. Hm.

Something doesn’t quite fit right here – and yet there is certainly truth to the idea that the sexes are qualitatively different. No matter how much a man could want it, he can never give birth. Unsurprisingly, this leads to differences in physiological structure which appears to give rise to differences in thinking patterns and aptitudes, which leads the difference between the perspectives of men and women to routinely be the subject of oodles of comedians. So this certainly seems like a real and valuable difference – I’m extremely glad that Sarah thinks differently than I do, and there have been lots of times that one of us has been able to bail out the other from some problem which looked insurmountable.

The rejoinder to the argument is that the differences between individuals are greater than the differences between the averages – i.e. that two men can be further apart on whatever measurement than the average man and the average woman. I buy that too. But if the differences between the averages weren’t a useful or widely-observed phenomenon, comedians wouldn’t get much mileage out of it.

I think my favorite split-the-baby proposition is that of Rabbi Roth, the Conservative thinker who had the idea that women were not automatically obligated in all of the mitzvot, but could accept upon themselves the obligation and burden, and at that point could serve in any ritual capacity. The problem is that in practice, vanishingly few people actually follow R’ Roth’s position. so I think it falls into the category of “idea that is widely ignored.”

So I’m not sure where I am here, and there’s a big dialectic (hehe) clash. Fortunately I’m not in a hurry.

On the tip of my tongue

Kesher Israel had their “social shabbat” yesterday, and we were treated to a couple of people we knew and several we didn’t. It was an enjoyable affair, and the conversation lasted until after minha time (!)

One of the treats was getting introduced to a new wine: Le Moure De L’Isle Rouge 2009 – fabulous, and has a delightfully complicated character.

Interestingly, there was universal agreement among those who regularly attend KI (6 of us) that tefillah (prayer services) is entirely too fast: one attendee said “with my yeshiva education, there is no chance for me to come close to reading the prayers at the speed the congregation says them.” I’ve noticed that when I bring this up, most folks seem to agree – I’ve only had about two people say that they liked the speed or that it should be faster. I’d put my knowledge of Hebrew prayer up against those two any day – it’s the people who know oodles more than me who say they can’t keep up. One suggestion that was raised was to basically start timing a couple of the critical parts of the service (sh’ma, silent amidah) – I think this is a fabulous idea, and could really take some of the personality out of the issue. I say “personality” because some of the congregants are more of the “force of nature” types rather than the go-along-get-along types, and if the change could be less about individuals and more about improving the ability of the average person to keep up, that would work better. Another suggestion was to revisit the stuff the kids lead (aleinu, ein k’elokeinu, shir shel shabbat, etc) and get them to quit doing the “stand there for some small number of seconds, and then say the last line” thing. Honestly, they “read” hebrew faster than I can read English – and I am a quick reader.

Another issue which was brought up was that several of the attendees had attempted to join the synagogue, and no one had reached out to help them get the process finished (!), and others hadn’t ever had anyone explain why they should join. Those aren’t visitors – they had all been in the community for more than a year – so I look at that as a significant gap in the approach currently taken.

Hopefully I’ll get some traction agitating for change in these types of matters…

Of course, the things I like far outweigh the things I don’t – yesterday I was in a conversation with pair of folks at kiddush (social “hour”) which discussed the chemical process by which baking soda and baking powder worked, and we were all using our almost-remembered freshman chemistry to try to deduce the reaction. Avidan was the one with the answer, and that was pretty cool.

To put away or not to put away

When I was 15, I bought a bass guitar – it was 3/4 scale (but I didn’t realize that at the time) cherry red, and I flailed away on it a bit. I had previously had fantasies of rock stardom which had been only prevented by my complete and utter lack of talent or effort. I was flipping back and forth between punk and hippie phases, and pretty much stunk.

Eventually, I got Dar Q (drums), Tammy H (keyboard, vox), and Steve D (guitar, vox), and we formed a band called Peristalsis. We sounded about as good as you’d expect a band named after a digestive process to sound, and made up in enthusiasm what we lacked in talent. Eventually, this stopped – I was working too much in fast food (30+ hours OT / week = how to make a minimum wage job pay well).

Then I went off to UMd for a semester – this wasn’t my idea: I was pretty much forced into going, and I didn’t want to be there, so I flunked out, but before I did that, I spent a few hundred dollars on a Fender acoustic 12-string, and started indulging my assorted fantasies of dropping out of polite society to become a street musician.

The lack of realism there is evident to any stringed musician: playing outside is rough on one’s tuning under the best of circumstances, but keeping a 12-string in tune (or even close enough to not sound painful) is quite laborious. Oh, yeah, and then there’s the fact that “street musician” is not a career path which includes being able to pay rent consistently without trouble, and I was pretty dead-set on getting myself into a heck of a lot of trouble.

I came back to Utah, and got back together with Dar and Steve, only this time we called ourselves The Sunmasons, after a poem by a former High School classmate whose last name was Mason. In this configuration, we played a few shows, mostly with the other tiny local SLC band Painted Cloud. At one point, Jon B (other drummer) joined the band, and we had a massive stage presence (two drummers will do that). That lasted a while, and we actually put out a cassette (“It’s OK, I’m with the BAND”). Eventually Steve became (like many, many other musicians) overcome by a drug problem – the music for a song I wrote about that ended up getting a second life later on as “Ender.”

So Dar and I decided, in an evolutionary manner, to shake up the band a bit: I moved over to guitar (I had a knockoff of an Ibanez X), Dar moved to Bass (in a beautiful midnight blue, which was much closer to dark purple), and we got members Corinne (guitar, vox), Joe (percussion), and Leon (crazy, yoga-guy drums), and turned into a vastly jazzier incarnation of the Sunmasons. In this lineup, we played a few all-ages clubs (only Leon was over 21), a few outdoor festivals, and had gigs with larger local bands Ali Ali Oxen Free and My Sister Jane. I was halfway through my hippie phase, as evinced by the presence of a percussionist and by my outlandish costuming and extremely long hair (to be fair, the hair was actually a chick magnet, but the women at the U of U were more interested in playing with my hair than actually dating me). A couple more of my songs date from this period – the music to “Lojack” and “Vorlon” and the actual song “The Girl Next Door.” But this too faded away – I had been running a group house and making the incredibly stupid move of renting rooms to my friends who were terrible credit risks. When that came to a thundering halt (basically I walked away, and let the landlord come and kick everyone out, because they hadn’t been willing to pay me their share of the rent and I lacked the wherewithal to evict them), Leon vanished, and Joe and Corinne faded out shortly thereafter.

So Dar and I were again left without a band. We re-contacted Jon B, and it turned out that he had just kicked Steve out of his band at the time, and was left with Yuri (bass, keys) and Zack (lead guitar, flute). Dar and I joined them, and for a while had the dual-bass player thing going on, which was exceedingly cool. We played some gigs, and went into the studio to record, getting so far as to have four songs which were album-ready (with the exception of Jon’s inexplicable decision to use electronic rather than acoustic drums – the drums were passable, but the cymbals were atrocious). Music I wrote for Dar’s song “Airflesh” later became “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” It felt like we were on the cusp of something – a real shot at making a career out of making music. I had just gotten a gig promoting concerts at the U of U, and at the time was wholly shameless about self-promotion (I had not yet learned the lessons regarding pride and falls). But sadly, this too was to come to an end. I had a pretty explosive temper, and would never back down or compromise. After one particularly loud and yelly practice, Jon unceremoniously kicked me out. Dar quit a bit later, and that was when I stopped seriously following them. I was not gracious – had they asked me for a favor I wouldn’t have done it, but they never asked. They did eventually go on to put out some music (I believe with a wholly different lineup – I don’t even know whether Jon was involved at that point).

At this point, I was pretty lost musically – I tried a few things as as soloist, but could never really get any mojo. A friend and I did a coffee-lounge gig of mostly covers as “The Indigo Guys,” but anyone who said we were any good was either generous or extremely stoned. I tried being a music major – I did classical guitar lessons, got a cheap ($50) drum kit and took some lessons, and even took some piano and theory classes, but I couldn’t really compete with the people who had actually been serious about music for decades. Eventually I realized that.

The drum set died when my ex-wife took it apart too far during a move when I wasn’t around (she took all of the hardware bits apart, and then most of the washers, springs, nuts, and the like were almost instantly lost, and what was left wasn’t worth saving). For the next year or so I would occasionally play a cover gig at a restaurant or the like, but nothing to write home about.

After that, I didn’t do anything with music for years. After moving East, getting a divorce, converting to Judaism and getting re-married, and several more years, some of my friends indicated that they were starting a Jewish a cappella group called Makela. I auditioned by singing “Southern Cross” (I was later told I was the only person who didn’t come in singing something Jewish), and got in. A funny part of this was that I auditioned as a baritone / bass, but they told me that I was a tenor. After I learned more, and worked on my voice for a while, I realized that not only was I a tenor, I was a very high tenor (I can get well into Alto).

I had a good time doing that – it had some cheesy choreography, uniforms, and the like, but it was a fun way to pass the time. Their shtick was either translating secular songs into Hebrew (eem etahev = “If I fell”), doing well known Hebrew songs (Dodi Li), and they eventually wanted to branch out a bit into home-written lyrics. Another member was struggling to re-write Toto’s “Africa,” to make it about Israel, and I stepped in to help do that. I wrote the words to be “I face the wall in Jerusalem” and the like, and that was popular with them. We were starting to home-record an album (on a system which was pretty advanced at the time, but now would be viewed as paleolithic). Then there was trouble: the owners of the Toto copyright wouldn’t give us permission to do this recording, and the price of doing this without permission (via mechanical license etc) would have been extremely high, especially for a self-financed CD. So the band was about to go try to find another melody to use with those words, when I suggested that I could go write one. Ilana B and I knocked out “Aliyah L’Regel” (about traveling through three cities in Israel to end up in Jerusalem) in about a day (partially because I could recycle the music from one of my old Sunmasons songs, “Kiwi”), and that was a smashing success. Shortly after the CD was recorded & released, there was more trouble: Ilana had done something (I don’t remember what) which pissed off the bandleaders so much that she was kicked out. I disagreed with this, and resigned in protest at the same time.

So now I was again musically adrift – I was thinking that playing guitar would be a good idea, but had no idea where to really start. About a year or so afterwards, Sarah introduced me to Patrick, and the two of us played together as multi-instrumentalists – he’s mostly a drummer, but also plays guitar, and I’m the reverse. I bought a Washburn J-9, which has become my primary guitar – the only thing I would do differently if I had to do it over would be get one with a fixed bridge. We got some others and became The Franchise, and were able to release three albums (with a different lineup on each one). We were halfway through the fourth (with yet another lineup), when I got sick last year. I couldn’t play guitar at all for several months, and drums were right out.

And so now I come to the crux of the matter. I haven’t played guitar in about six months. I don’t know whether this is the start of a long drought or just a dry spell, but the space which has been my music room is idle. It’s full of music stuff – guitars on the walls (mine, Patrick’s and Don’s), Patrick’s drum set, our PA, a bunch of amps, and oodles of recording gear & microphones with cables carefully run along hooks on the walls and ducts.

But if this is a long thing, I need to not store unused music stuff there. The space is just too valuable – if the musical detritus wasn’t there, Sarah would have turned it into an exercise room long ago. I haven’t felt the pull of songwriting at all, and am more at peace with myself than I’ve been in my recollection, so I have no reserve of angst from which to draw out new songs.

I guess this is the process of determining whether this is a childish thing which should be put away — I’m at a crossroads with this, and I’ll need to do some praying about it before I can decide which way to go. I do know that either way will be tinged with the question of the road not taken, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Still, more food for thought.

A dish best served cold

I learned from my old friend (the friendship is old, the friend is not) R’ Walls that The Israeli Rabbanut is going after Häagen Dazs. The reason for this is that the Rabbanut (chief rabbinical council of Israel) is deciding to follow the Sefardi (Spanish/Middle Eastern custom) opinion of not relying on a secular government’s validation that “milk” can only come from a cow (as opposed to a non-kosher animal).

What I don’t understand is this: why now? Given that Häagen Dazs has been sold in Israel and treated as kosher for a long time, what is the impetus to stir up trouble? It doesn’t seem to me that things are so quiet that we needed something to argue about, so I suspect that there is more to it than that.

But I am disappointed: Häagen Dazs makes the only kosher rocky road ice cream I’ve ever encountered, and their pralines & cream is a thing of beauty.

A most civilized affair

Sarah’s off at a silent retreat until tomorrow, and as is my custom, I hosted a civilization game, which was a blast.

I successfully managed to navigate a large variety of food allergies without killing any of the guests, and even got to make chocolate (not so) salty balls, which were a huge hit. Now “balls” might not quite be the right image: my ineptness as a confectionary baker was quite clear, and they looked more like either UFOs or Amish hats, but in any case they were extremely tasty. I had to watch out for both salt and soy (!) which is a typical pareve margarine ingredient.

David’s chocolate (not so) salty balls:
1 jar natural valencia peanut butter (Trader Joe’s)
2T Earth Balance soy-free buttery spread
1c confectioner’s sugar
1.5 bags dark chocolate chips (365 brand is pareve)
wax paper + cookie sheet

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler (or jury-rigged equivalent), and while that’s going on mix the other ingredients by hand in a bowl. Make 1″ diameter peanut butter balls, and dip them in the chocolate, and then set them on the wax-papered cookie sheet. Once all of the peanut butter has been used, put the cookie sheet with the balls in the freezer until ready to serve. These will melt in your hand, so be prepared for that.

We had decided to use the Western expansion, but when one player did not show up that meant that the board was relatively sparse. The pay was extremely non-aggressive – for example, at no point did I have a conflict with another player.

Michael (Africa): 2984
Me (Illyria): 2942
Shoshana (Asia): 2761
Avidan (Babylon): 2337
David (Iberia): 1921
Rebecca (Assyria): 1565
Josh (Egypt): 1510

A good and fun game all around. For a full history of the civ games so far, check out my old livejournal.

But the best part of the week while Sarah’s away is that she left me a whole bunch of affectionate notes around the house, and I got all warm-fuzzy when I’d find one.

Secrets of the unwatched

Sarah’s headed to a retreat (rather than a strategic regathering), and I’ll do what I always do when she’s away: play board games (specifically, civilization)!  However, this time, one of the notable things will be getting to indulge my epicureanism via non-mevushal bordeaux.  Whee!

But of course, and as usual, Sheldon is an antidote to gasbaggery.  It’s true: the $5 Terrenal wine that Trader Joe’s sells tastes pretty good.  There is some nice novelty here, and that’s probably worth the price difference, but I can see why folks would disagree.