~ Friday, July 29, 2005 ~
Quiet. Like a Fish.
~ Wednesday, July 20, 2005 ~
To celebrate the whole student-on-summer-vacation thing, Rambam and I took a trip to the newly-opened Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ. It's probably been ten years since I last visited an aquarium, but when I was younger, we--my family and I--used to go to Monterey's on special occasions, and to San Francisco's all the time. While Rambam and I were planning this one, we were reminiscing about our favorite parts of the SF aquarium. (He used to live there, so he can do that.) I could still remember standing next to Maimone as we peered over the metal bars to look down into the sunken pools where the crocodilians lounged, and him explaining to me how to tell the difference between an alligator and a crocodile (an alligator's snout is broader, and when it closes its mouth, you can't see any of the lower teeth). In that same area, if memory serves, was the giant boa constrictor and the dainty two-headed snake, and in the next hall was the luminescent fish whose light you could see if you pressed a button. I remember liking the seahorses, too. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has its own set of memories--the immense two-story kelp forest with all the schools of fish darting in and out, the stingrays zipping around and around in a shallow basin with all the children gathering around to stroke their backs but carefully avoiding the poisoned barbs on their tails, the chamber of jellyfish with their otherworldly beauty, and I think there was a spot directly connected to the bay itself, where you could stand and watch fish swimming around amid the periodic frothy deposits of fresh waves, with only a pane of glass separating you and them. (I think it was also at the Monterey Bay Aquarium that I stood next to my father amid a dense crowd of people, all of us gawking at an octopus, and I proudly--and loudly--told my dad to look at all the testicles. Of course I realized my mistake a split second after the word escaped my mouth, but the entire crowd had already burst into laughter. That memory I didn't share with Rambam.) Anyway, there was something remarkably organic about the whole experience, as if the glass and the walls and the little explanatory text placards would disappear if you didn't keep an eye on them, and suddenly it would just be you and the fish all together in the water, each utterly vulnerable to the other. I liked those aquariums.
I liked Camden's aquarium too. Camden's seemed a bit less organic and a bit more like it was the Broadway show of aquariums, but if they were putting on a show, it was a good one, with plenty of showstopping moments that made me start in surprise and delight. I expected seahorses, for example, but I didn't expect the seadragons. For a moment I didn't even realize they were living, because they were surrounded by leafy plants that resembled their own...appendages (what are those things, anyway?) and I didn't expect to have to look for motion from the vegetation, but once I switched to interpreting it as an animal rather than as a plant, I was entranced.
Other things I didn't expect included the eels, with their disconcerting habit of hanging out in crevices with their front portion sticking out and their mouths open, as if they had such an extreme sense of entitlement that they just expected dinner to swim right in. I was also surprised by the seals and the penguins in their outdoor playgrounds. It was mercilessly hot that day, but I forgot the heat while I watched the seals rolling off rocks and slipping into their cool watery playground and imagined how good it would feel to hop the fence and do the same.
One of the most dramatic parts was the giant two-stories-high chamber with movie-theater-style seating and surround-walls where you can practically watch an entire ecosystem swim around in their choreographed marine ballet, complete with a sea turtle prima ballerina, some supporting stingrays, a corps de ballet of flickering tuna, and two diver stagehands swimming around in the background keeping everything flowing smoothly.
At the last minute, when we thought we'd seen everything, we discovered the wing of the aquarium on the other side of the cafeteria, where they keep the hippos, the sharks, and the jellyfish. I had no idea hippos were so playful. One of them was quite a performer, and seemed to enjoy propelling herself out of the water and hurtling back into it with a mighty splash, just for the effect it created in her audience. It was also fun to watch them swim round in circles with their bellies skimming the inside of the glass walls. They really are remarkably balletically graceful in the water, but of course on land it's all lumber and waddle. I have to admit, I feel a kinship with them--when I'm on the dance floor I (usually) manage to keep my balance and move in time to the music and stuff, but off the dance floor I'm pretty embarrassingly clumsy. Maybe I'll adopt the hippo as my totem animal.
I realize I owe a great deal of my enjoyment and fascination to the Rambam's catalystic contagious enthusiasm. I think I would forget how much I like communing with interesting fish without someone else there to remind me by openly and unselfconsciously enjoying it himself.
By far the most frustrating part of the day is that one of the pieces of music they piped into the aquarium (oh yes, the aquarium had a soundtrack...I told you it felt like a show) sounded nigglingly familiar, in a John Williamsy sort of way, but I couldn't place it at all. We even asked at the gift shop, but not only do they not sell the CDs of the aquarium soundtrack, but they couldn't even tell us what the music was. Someday I'll figure it out, I suppose, but in the meantime I'm adding it to the list.
Current Music: WQXR is playing something by Mozart.
~ prattled by Miriam at 7:29 p.m. [+]
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Guess who's moving to Park Slope?
~ Friday, July 15, 2005 ~
My new roommate as of 8/15/2005, whom I shall call The Advocate, wrote me this afternoon to offer me the room she's renting. Yessssss. After several weeks of searching, I'm very very happy to have secured the place I wanted most, where I'll be living with the only person who wrote an ad in such a way that I instantly liked her. I'll probably write something else later about why I like her so much already and why I'm so excited to be moving to Park Slope, but now is not that time. Now is the time for something different.
I'm going to be leaving RRC temporarily, or perhaps permanently, to pursue a masters degree in bioethics at CUNY's graduate center, which is why I'm moving to Brooklyn in--egad--three weeks. Yikes, that's very soon. I guess I should think about collecting boxes and starting to pack.
Why leave RRC? Ultimately, I want to be in a position in which I can act as a guide for people who are in morally muddy situations as they try to figure out what they ought to do. This is exactly the sort of thing I've really been thinking I'd be able to do as a rabbi. The funny thing is that while I really love the Reconstructionist theology and it makes oodles of sense to me--far more sense than any theology offered by any other denomination of Judaism--the manner in which it's being implemented now (as opposed to thirty years ago) is so post-modern and post-halachic and post-realist that they practically don't believe in right answers any longer, but I do. Today's Reconstructionist tends to view the world as a tangled mess upon which it is her job to superimpose her own vision of order and meaning, whereas I tend to go around digging through the tangled mess in hopes of finding its inherent order and meaning. Jarah said once that mine is a much more religious approach because I'm asserting some sort of faith in the idea that there *is* order and meaning already there, whereas Today's Reconstructionist takes it as a given that there isn't any, and never was. Maybe she's right, and maybe my whole truth-truth-truth worldview ultimately rests upon blind faith born of an emotional attachment to an idea that I just don't want to relinquish. To be honest, even trying to consider the idea of there being no objective reality at all makes my shoulders stiffen with anxiety. Maybe Today's Reconstructionist is more evolved than I am, and in fact the only truth is that there is none. I can't exactly disprove the notion. It's just that it doesn't make any sense to me, where as my objective-reality-based worldview does. Make sense to me, I mean. So RRC and I are taking temporary, or perhaps permanent, leave of each other because of philosophical differences.
So why bioethics? Well, I haven't met a bioethical issue yet that hasn't slurped me in with its intoxicating combination of a need for rasor-sharp religiophilosophical distinctions and life-and-death urgency. It's applied philosophy at its best. I don't mean to suggest that I have all the answers, but I do think (believe (hope)) that I have the capacity to understand the weight of the various sides of each issue, and that I'll be able to contribute, eventually, sophisticated suggestions about how to proceed in specific cases. Obviously, this sort of work is attractive to someone who believes in right answers even in the trickiest of situations, or at least in the existence of a best answer that becomes visible to the diligent and creative searcher. I don't know if I'm mentally capable of finding them, but at any rate I've learned enough about the movement that I now realize I wouldn't really be called upon, even, to search for them if I were working as a Reconstructionist rabbi.
My latest hero is a lady named Nancy Dubler who taught a course at Drisha's Winter Week of Learning last December. She's in charge of the ethics program at a hospital in the Bronx, and she wrote a book called Bioethics Mediation about the sort of clinical one-case-at-a-time kind of work that I think I'd like to do, in which you go into a hospital room and meet the patient and the family, or if the patient's comatose, you just meet the family, and you learn what's going on and why nobody can agree upon what to do, and you try to lend clarity to the situation and give some sound advice. Of course in this process there is also going to be some counseling involved, especially when family members disagree over who has the clearest understanding of the patient's best interests, which is why the book was called Bioethics Mediation. Dubler has her J.D. from Harvard, so she can give official legal advice as well as being a sensitive counselor, and it makes me wonder whether I should be looking at law schools while I'm at CUNY. It's certainly been suggested before, by family and friends as well as near-strangers who have heard me stubbornly arguing a point, but I never really took it seriously. I tend to think of law school as insurmountably difficult, but I'd be willing to be wrong.
So now you know. Next step is to compose a letter to RRC's e-mail announcement list and let them know I won't be back next year. That's going to be a delicate task.
Current Music: Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto
~ prattled by Miriam at 11:00 p.m. [+]
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My Plate Runneth Over
I've stated from time to time that this blog is more for my own amusement than anyone else's, which is a useful way of reminding myself not to get all show-off-ish, nor to to beat myself up for not posting, but I guess I'm momentarily going to act counter to that mission statement for the sake of making a public service announcement.
I'm not dead. Not even a little bit. I just have a whole lot of stuff on my plate right now, most notably the search for a new place to live and the other search for a job to allow me to keep the place once I find it. (Yes, it's true, I have to leave my beloved Jarah, and it makes me all teary.) And of course, once I find an ad that holds potential, I have to compose an informative, concise, friendly e-mail carefully crafted to respond directly to the poster's original ad, convincing them of why they want me for their employee/roommate, all without sounding like I'm trying to hard (aye, there's the rub). So after long hours of doing that, I've usually had enough of sitting at a computer and reading and writing, and I'm remarkably unready to remain seated and write a long bloggy post in classic (i.e. expansive and overly detailed) Miriam style.
So that's what I'm doing and that's why I've not been posting about my wonderful awesome fantastic blissful trip to the UK with Graham, nor even about anything else. Besides, Graham went on a blogblitz and threw all the pictures and all the stories, and even all the limericks, up onto his blog within a day or two of his returning home (and mad props to him for that) so I figure almost everyone who knows about my blog knew about his long before, or at least knows about it now, and reads it, so I didn't think I'd need to worry about people wondering whether I arrived back safely from the UK.
Except today, at Tokio, I saw the King of Prussia for the first time since returning from the trip, and for a guy who's usually remarkably chill and laid back, he seemed particularly excited to see me. Why? Because in spite of the rational side of his head telling him it was ridiculous, he thought maybe I'd perished in the bombings. (He was "bummed", he said. For the sake of my own fragile ego I am pretending he was demonstrating his skill with understatement.) Not only that, but he'd also already made it through the five-stage grief process, he said, and now he had to go and undo all his hard work...only to have to go through it all over again when I move away. Apparently the ungrieving process is 5-fold too, because even by the end of the night, he was still in denial that I hadn't died.
What made it even worse for me was that I'd been thinking about calling or e-mailing him to find out why he wasn't out dancing the Thursday before, when Graham was here in Philly and we both went to Tokio, but I never actually called him. If I had, I could have saved him a lot of grief, and realizing this, I felt terrible. And he doesn't read this, because he's vaguely antiblog or something, which I understand because I was that way too for a long time, but I just want to throw this up there in case there's someone else out there who does read this and is currently sitting shiva for me or whatever. Once more: I'm not dead. I'm just busy. Thank you for caring.
Current Music: Too Darn Hot (still in my head from being played at Tokio tonight)
~ prattled by Miriam at 2:08 a.m. [+]
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