Where Dwell You Through the Forest?

A metaphor to explain why belief in God, karma, or bad juju, is the ideal. 

Your neighborhood supermarket fired all their staff. A jar is left on the counter with a few Casio calculators nearby. The shelves are re-stocked every night when the streets are quiet. Every person in town has an appointment. Only one person shops for their groceries at a time.

You used to know the owner, he greeted you like a brother, but you haven’t seen him in four years. Now the aisles are quiet; still like a military roll call that yields to soundlessness when the general stops his footsteps.

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‘Embracing One’          Susan Cohen Thompson

The secluded aura greets you at the entrance of a parking lot that is so obscure and untidy that you nearly forget under which consistency of branches and shrubs encloses the gateway. After each week, this untidiness becomes frustrating. As it happens, the peace and quiet you once enjoyed having the store all to yourself and the relief knowing you won’t stumble upon nonsensical interactions by chance, now becomes a source of stored animosity.

You have a question about a product and no one is there to answer it. The milk is spoiled and you can’t return it. The horribly situated appointment on Mondays at 5 PM means you have to lose time at the office. Now realizing this creates rumination over its exactly quantified monetary value that bleeds from your pocket and into the metal bucket on the counter.

The owner’s disappearance of sheer naiveté also speaks to his brazen disregard for your satisfaction. As your memory reprocesses the store owner’s greeting, sentiments sour and an erosion process begins. Instead of hearing a “how are ya?” the question is shoved into a grave and becomes resurrected with an idea instead of a natural man.

Possessions become less his when there’s no one there to claim it. Likewise, time pulls away guilt and stealing can become righteous. Emotions can allow vengeance to look like justice. In a metaphysical sense these hideous mutated plants grow like weeds and yet one will be deluded to think they’re somehow sanctified and beautiful.

The idea manifests like this: After all these years you have been the one losing. You pay the same prices for the product, and he doesn’t have overhead expenses to fairly justify maintaining the price tag as is. So you calculate in your head the wholesale price, throw him a bone with a dollar or two more, and throw the money in the jar. “So fairly precise,” you say aloud.

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Maid of Farmland                  Susan Cohen Thompson

The next week you calculate all the items you were dissatisfied with, for one reason or another, and realize that this adds up to hundreds of dollars. Angered, your hand recoils from your pocket, which has been violated for too long with the help of ungratified patience. You don’t punch numbers this time to calculate the total, and the clink of change does not echo as you disappear through the back entrance.

The store owner’s inventory shows discrepancy, which at first he ignores. Although at some point the inventory tells a compelling story of his town. His wallet whisks from his pocket, and then security cameras are installed watching your every move.  Perhaps this would add a little more logic to your logic. Certainly now you would be more precise with your calculations, and knowing your activity has been noticed, you will adapt accordingly in order to continue to call yourself an honest person.

Human-Nature
‘Tao of Human Nature’                       Susan Cohen Thompson

In reality, an entity is written with a code that can be reprogrammed unrecognizably in permissive environments, yet will believe it hasn’t changed. The truth of err will never occur to one without feeling eyes watching.

“Pray you, tread softly, that the blind mole may not” (Cymbeline, William Shakespeare)

Even the darkest black looks more grey under scrutiny. Especially when you can leave through the back door and through a prickly curtain backed by nature.

 

 

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Wildness Exists in Us All

If assuming intellectual superiority over another group is as easy as removing the bindings of an organized religion, then atheism must be a quick fix to inferior minds of the masses. All you have to do is proclaim that you don’t believe in fairy tales, and you’ll find yourself amongst Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and the late and great Christopher Hitchens. All have claimed to be free thinkers, yet their sequence of logic they consider to be infallible as religious doctrine. A quote from Judaism comes to mind, “theres nothing new under the sun.” Proclaiming your way of life and the perfection of your conclusions is as old as the world since its first day of creation.

If René Descartes, a brilliant philosopher famous for his meditations of radical doubt, could hear the level of certainty amongst  athiests thinkers he would roll over in his grave. The

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René Descartes
creator of Cartesian doubt and father of philosophy maintained his faith, but perhaps if he was alive today atheists would dismiss him as foolish for believing in the virgin birth.

Today there is this assumption amongst secular people that religious people who practice according to their holy books are inherently binded from a greater understanding of life, as if their attachment to God and to a higher purpose has forced their mind into a cage. Yet, being a religious person is difficult and requires constant reflection and meditation. The appeal to forgoe on one’s devotion, with its rules and requirements, or to scale back on observance is part of the struggle that all religious people experience in varying degrees and points in their lives.

Alike with Descartes, religious people doubt and doubt again. Some leave, some find answers and stay. An enticing secular world awaits to welcome the departed Christians, Muslims, and Jews, which doesn’t require them to attend a church on Sundays, Shul on Saturdays, or Mosque for prayer five times a day.

Therefore religious people can understand why someone would choose to be secular and

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Fyodor Dostoyevsky
do not agree that their religion interferes with their ability to interpert the world. The archbishop of Canterbury and Russian literature scholar Rowan Williams said “I think it would be a terrible thing if religious faith meant that you saw people in a less three-dimensional way.” His favorite writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, a renowned novelist famous for exploring the complexities and contradictions of human nature, was also a religious Christian. “Human beings are as every bit as unpredictable as Dostoevsky sets out. They resist rational characterization and reasonable solutions,” Williams said about the literary writer’s philosophy. 

Williams went on to say that “You often don’t begin to undersand humanity unless you understand the wildness thread thats in it all.” Perhaps the common ground amongst religous scholars and athiests could be just this. If human nature is as irrational as Dostoevsky portrays, then whether one is certain in their religious doctrine or in their temporal earthly experience, were all equally flawed. A wildness interferes with ever achieving intellectual perfection.

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The Crucifixion by Pieter Paul Rubens

The Box Doesn’t Fit A Human

 

Je Suis Juive (I Am You)

A profile is hard to write because words fail me, but at least I own it. Writing about a person and presenting letters with ink cannot ever achieve the descriptive quality and accuracy of being face to face with someone. A second-hand account is presented by dissecting flesh and blood, and cutting and pasting what would be interesting to the reader. However, this process of isolating characteristics and aspects of a human being prohibits the writer (and subsequently the reader) to ever fully know a person.

Essentially, each person has a profile formed of others in their minds. The disadvantage of this internal profile is that it can’t be reworked as easily as a draft. All the faults, errors, and generalizations formulates the box that awkwardly fits a human being.

 

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At Sara Klar’s studio

A soft-spoken artist from Bedford Stuyvesant recently has started to use the Talmud in her paintings. She uses razor blades to cut the pages and adds them to her multilayered paintings, which on a single canvas runs over 6 inches deep. She then uses those same razor blades to cut and peel the paint like a fruit. The pain of the past and the quest of the present are picked and pulled apart to bring a greater understanding for her to heal and seek some unknown truth.

This is when people take a few steps back and furrow their eyebrows. Reasonable judgements flare, then they become unshakeable. They begin to probe me, my intention, my religious observance.  They advise me to scrutinize her in the interview and ask tough questions. But I am not a rabbi, I am just a journalist that wants to share someone I found with the rest of the world. Whether I agree with her practices is irrelevant to the story.

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Coded

Indeed, my intention is to stir the pot, but also to force a churning robotic mind to do a backflip. The challenge for this profile is to transcend the hostile profile already assumed by the reader and supplement a more accurate image of Sara, the gracious woman who welcomed me into her home and shared her  story.

When I met Sara at an event in NYC I was immediately drawn to write about her. About her art she said “and through this process I was able to reconnect with my heritage,” which resonated with my own journey from a few years ago. Though I did not shred holy books when I became irreligious – I tore Judaism away from my life. As it happened, it was through picking up the pieces and fragments that were left that I was able to find it again.

Alas, Sara and I despite reaching different conclusions, are now sitting together in her studio surrounded by enormous canvases. As a figure between both worlds I understand Sara and want other people to understand her too. I wish to show the world her journey to discovery. I want to do Sara and her story justice – to make you (the reader) understand, and myself less misundersood. Through writing her story perhaps someone on the inside will be able to understand why I had to leave. Perhaps I might be able to come to grasps with it myself.

So why should you care as an orthodox person about empathizing with a person on the outside? Why should you try to understand them? Because then they won’t feel like a stranger. By you listening without judgement they can see a new part for themselves in the Jewish world, in whatever capacity they feel comfortable.

Diseases Within You

‘Put yourself first,’ ‘you deserve better,’

We have all been told this or have used this language to console a friend, but one must ask themselves why these catchphrases, which revolve around speculative entitlements, are the standards of advice?

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Narcissus (Caravaggio)

What if someone were to tell you that you do not inherently deserve anything, how enraged would that make you? Where would that leave your identity? Perhaps in protest to such a claim you would rate yourself on a scale from 1-10, you might compare yourself to  other single people and clarify your worth, you might cite your wonderful family as a reason for your deserving, your brain, your looks. Add up all the points that make you a wonderful catch, as if you’re an object, and then commodify someone else to see if you’re compatible.

The problem is that people are misdirected; instead of seeking common values, we seek common worth. The consequence is a diseased thought process that revolves around either “getting” or “settling,” and therefore, no time for introspection. However this problem, I believe, can be easily solved with self-evaluation.

The precise measurements at which we use to pull apart another person, we should use tenfold to scrutinize ourselves. This is not a call to change your sense of entitlement of others, but to expand those same expectations and demands towards yourself.

Meditate to discover which diseases lie under your skin, i.e. your  bad characteristics, and what that could mean to another person in your life. “What are you looking for?” should be internally changed to “what qualities am I looking to develop and harness within myself so I can be a better human, partner, neighbor, sibling, and friend?”

One thing you should never settle for is constant self-affirmation of your ‘commodified worth,’ without taking breaks to pull yourself apart every once in a while to look for diseased or neglected personality traits.

 

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with my conclusions/solutions?
What do you think the consequences of this mentality could be?

Featured image: Salome (Franz Von Stuck)

 

 

 

Dear Humanity, Have a Voice For Me

Dear Humanity,

It has been long told that a woman’s dress does not reflect her desire or consent to engage in physical touch or anything beyond this point. Much has been said about the foul and rotten individuals that violate, trample on, and extort consent to touch. These people attempt to conjure connection despite the obvious unpleasant and uncomfortable reaction that is clearly etched upon the victim’s face.

Though at times, even to the trained viewer and purposeful observer, the desire of the victim in question can be elusive. For women, as well as men, have been trained to be polite and socially agreeable. As an example, being polite means smiling when someone says something stupid or not funny, or even, uncomfortable. The programing for this has long been developed in early childhood. However in childhood we are simultaneously taught not to talk to strangers. When one becomes an adult and more comfortable with engaging and meeting strangers, without parental consent, the latter becomes null and void, and politeness is carried over and precariously offered to strangers.

I say this as a woman who learned the ‘hard way’ when I politely engaged with strangers who said hello, and was left uncomfortably finding an escape, an excuse to end the interaction. I see this type of behavior of ‘politeness’ amongst my friends, but without fail this can be seen anytime I go out to a bar, a party, or event, if I pay attention. 

Years ago, I was offered a ride by a gentleman in one of my courses. Everything about the interaction screamed “no,” this would go against what I was taught by my mother. Frankly, the gentleman was odd, yet, I felt ‘bad.’  He insisted “you sure, I’m going that way anyway?” Thereafter I agreed to get into the car with him, I felt as if I could not say no.

Though the reader may tense and suspect that something bad happened, nothing actually did. However, this incident helped me to understand how vulnerable I am to danger, to violating my own will, in order to follow a code of kindness. Easily this rule book I followed could have resulted in violation to any degree. Although, even the fact that I would rather have taken the train, if not solely to avoid discomfort, I could not grant this to myself. I couldn’t allow myself the luxury of being comfortable in my travels, because of a social standard of conduct.

However, it is through these experiences that I have changed tones completely. For instance, when I am dancing with my friends, if a ‘gentleman’ grabbed my hand to bring me to dance with him. I firmly say “what is your problem? Don’t you grab me!” and quickly I pull away. When I am outside of a bar and a ‘gentleman’ asks me if I am ‘okay’ and tries touching my arm to console my apparent frazzled state, which did not exist, “Personal space, don’t touch me,” is my response.

You may think this attitude is “feisty,” a deviation from the norm. You may think that I get an ego boost or sense of triumph from people telling me so. On the contrary, I long for the day that I would not be called this, that one day this attitude would be more prevalent amongst my gender.  These incidents should not be regarded as an oddity, or a spectacle for that matter; clearly, I am not “feisty,” I merely establish the rules of how I will be interacted with and treated.

What inspired me to write this down, finally, was not my own experiences, of which there are many of my “feisty,” and regrettably, “polite” reactions. In fact it is a specific altercation I had with one ‘gentleman,’ last night on New Year’s.

It all started with a random comment towards me, “you do not understand, I’m such a good guy it hurts.” My reaction was nodding and inching away. I ignore this  “good guy,” and assume the interaction with this fine gentleman would be over, but I was wrong.

Later that evening, or earlier that morning, I see this gentleman etching closer while conversing with another young woman. I took notice over the course of ten minutes that there might be something to investigate. This took time because at first, I could not tell if she resented the interaction or not, and I did not want to stand in the way of social interaction. Thus I resorted to standing nearby and observing, waiting for a possible sign, an accidental break of the facade of politeness, that my suspicions were correct.

Finally, I see that he touches her on the arm again, and again, and she steps back. He now fully is encroaching in her space; though oddly, I notice the look on her face does not immediately convey the discomfort she must have felt. Nonetheless confirming my suspicions I lean over to him and say “dude, give her personal space, she’s clearly not interested.”

Immediately, something possesses this ‘fine’ gentlemen, and obscenities are heard and alarms begin to ring within me. I back away looking at him in fear; he begins to match my backward steps away from him while he screams at me, something to the degree of how I’m a horrible bitch. I exclaim firmly “walk away,” which he does, but to my horror, he returns. He leaves, and then returns once again, this time clearly attempting to assault me. As he marches toward me I yell “get the fuck away from me,” and stand behind some gentlemen. Again, he yells to my friend, but finally leaves.

This is what is out there, this is what we have to fight against. They come to you pretending to be a “good guy,” they may even exclaim clearly their character, but it can all be lies. Being polite in these cases could cause harm to you, my fellow women. Being polite could create a situation in which the most grotesque can be acted upon you. Being polite can cause damage, you must not be polite for just it’s sake.

Be a ‘bitch,’ and let him call you one. He does not earn your interaction simply by wanting it. And no one is entitled to conversation from you, or to your space, or a slight touch on your arm, that is not authorized. You are not a bitch for making these rules clear, you are a human who stands up for their rights, however harsh you may come across.

Finally, the stranger framed, is the most important message to communicate to my fellow women. Someone who approaches you, understands that he is a stranger, and understands that he must be careful of your discomfort. Indeed, people who approach you are violating a social standard, touching as the second violation, and as such, the gentlemen are in the wrong in the case in which these social violations are undesired. You can scream, you can ask another stranger for help, you can say “get the fuck off me,” “don’t touch me,” and most importantly, “no.”Consider the type of person that will violate this societal rule; many are inconsiderate, while few are genuinely worthwhile to get to know.

To all the friends and those who passer by, be vigilant, be the voice and exclamation of declined consent to those who feel unable to offer it. Let’s fight this battle together, this overlooked aspect of assault, that represents an enormous problem for our women. Let us join together, let us help each other, let us protect each other.

Stay safe, Be prepared, Be vigilant,

Sincerely,

Fighting For You

 

Another great article on this topic, click here.

Unfortunately, the art picture above is not credited due to unknown source. If you know the source please contact me to credit.