Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Reflection of TEN YEARS of blogging as Zoe Strickman.

I'm not sure whether I am writing this for myself of for a reaction from you, but the readership of this blog has dropped to almost zero.  "This affirms that I am really using this blog for the right purpose -- a true journal," I think, and then I get sad that I only have two or three readers left from the olden days.  Hundreds of hits PER ARTICLE; ten, twenty comments in each post, arguments back-and-forth between readers in the comments section, drama, marital suggestions, etc. used to be a normal part of this blog.  No more.  Now it is just you, you, and me -- an echo chamber.

Its a bit shocking that ten years have passed since I started writing a book on understanding who we are.  I was fighting with the concept of the "I" after coming out of yeshiva and first starting law school.  But to go back to 8/26/2004...

I was starting my first day of my second year of law school.  I was working hard on becoming an attorney, and I had a pretty difficult courseload ahead... Evidence, Constitutional Law (which I eventually failed), and who knows what else.  I had my friends, and I wasn't even thinking of marriage yet.  My excitement came from waiting to receive the Netflix DVDs in the mail -- who would ever think that their streaming service would ever be something of value?

I was fighting a struggle of identity.  Who I am.  I was trying to reconcile it with the idea of a "frum" person, as it was taught to me in yeshiva.  I was frum, but I wasn't that person I had in my head, yet at the time, I did not yet come to terms with it.  Appearances were so important, and I was a soldier of the Lubavicher Rebbe feeling pressured to do what a Lubavicher does.  I was careful to dress, act, and be what was expected of me, and the fact that I lacked in certain key areas (e.g., davening with a minyan, or thinking like a Lubavicher) was a deep source of angst for me.

I started this blog thinking that there must be something wrong with me.  Kiley's blog resonated with me so deeply that I decided that I must be like her.  It was her style and her honesty that inspired me to look deeply within myself and find the reasons for my angst.  She found a reason for her pain, and I wanted a reason too -- something that I can point to and say THAT is why I am the way I am.  I made a decision that there was something wrong with me, and then I went to visit a psychologist to prove that I was a manic depressive, and already knowing the answers to the diagnostic questions I would be asked, I answered in a way that I knew the doctor would agree with me.

[With all sensitivity and respect to those who truly suffer, I made a mockery of them and when it was no longer convenient, I stood up and said, "nope, that's not me."  In the meantime, however, I experienced true feelings of helplessness imposed on my by those who were supposed to be protecting me.  I felt as if I was not trusted by those with whom I entrusted my health, and that I couldn't trust my own thoughts, my urges, or my own energy patterns.  When I had an all-nighter rush from studying for an exam the next day (or more likely, my turn for being "called upon" to be the Socratic method punching bag of the day to give jollies to some law school professor's sadistic urges), I blamed my adrenaline rush the night before on being manic depressive.  When I was sad that I had no relationship and nobody to love, I blamed this sadness on being a manic depressive.  The definitions were too easily applicable to my minor mood swings, and so I was hit with a label that was so damn difficult to remove, even though I never gambled away all my earnings or attacked a cop while running naked through the street, or booked a cruise to Hawaii naked in the middle of some manic rage (there are obviously extreme examples).  I was just a law school kid who was having a difficult time keeping up with the pace that was required of me to succeed in what was a nasty, ego-blasting, often humiliating, cut-throat environment that was law school.]

In giving myself the title of being manic depressive, I also forgot that I had roughly twenty large cups of coffee a day during the week, and did not consider that this might affect my moods a bit.  I forgot that I had an abusive childhood where I had not yet scratched the surface of resolving the emotional trauma I experienced as a child.  Heck, I didn't even remember whether my feelings and my memories were real or not, and I felt like a liar for not remembering whether memories of abuse were real or not.

But it wasn't only abuse.  It was my parent's divorce.  It was the breakup of my home, my security.  It was the guilt from feeling like I caused the divorce.   It was the failed relationships and inability to form meaningful friendships over the years which hurt deeply.  I was selfish and self-centered in all of my dealings, and the other for me was a tool to be used for my own growth an personal development, but at the time I was blind to this.  I probably still am.

But it wasn't only my parent's divorce, or my failed relationships.  It was my explicit failure in my chosen profession in school.  I did not get into medical school because I withdrew my application over a technicality -- a core course which I was having trouble with, "physics" reflected to the medical schools that I failed it when in reality my transcript showed that it was an incomplete.  I was sucked in around the same time to a MLM / pyramid scheme which eventually landed many of my peers in jail.  I was spared because after leaving the chosen medical field to do this full time, and after giving it my all, I lost $20,000 and I was in debt up to my ears trying to make the business work.  But I couldn't pay my bills and the income from the business stopped coming in.  I died inside and admitted defeat, and then the pyramid scheme went under.  Then a few months later, it morphed into something new and I was dumb enough to give it a try again.  I fell so hard on my face from the business failure that I thought that I would never recover.

...Then I found religion.

Religion didn't solve my problems, it compounded them.  I suddenly had to be someone else, and I had to leave behind many things I held very dear and close to me.  Ballroom dancing, the occult, tarot cards, dating, bars, friendships, freedom -- these all vanished when I decided to hide away in the frum world and remake myself.

I came out a changed man with a plan.  A religion as a toolkit on my belt, and a belief that if I did X, Y, and Z, I would be rewarded with spiritual goodies, a good life, a wife, children, riches, and all that my heart could desire.  Wrong.  "We don't make deals with G-d," a rabbi once told me after I was devastated that I bombed the first LSAT exam when I finally decided to go to law school.

"If we don't make deals with G-d, then what good is he?  Isn't he supposed to be my father, my owner, my creator, my friend, my consolation in times of pain?  Isn't he supposed to save me? From myself?  From others who oppress me?"  "And why should I serve Him if he does not reward me?"

I went through years of this, yet somehow my life has shown me that everything I believed was true.  He does reward us for our hard work and our prayers.  He does help us in times of need.  What I did not understand at the time, however, was that he does for us what HE believes is good for us, not what I believe is good for me.  In other words, no Porche in the driveway; no million bucks in the bank and naked models at my side when I walk down the street.  No fame, and no recognition -- just little old me.

It is ten years later, and after a number of rough years, for the moment, things have been good.  My law practice is for the moment successful.  I have six children all of whom were born in succession.  I have my health, and I have a good wife.  Now my marriage has been one hell of a shaky one over the years, but after a few years of bumpy times, I have learned how to appreciate my wife even with her faults.  Even today I still catch myself being a judgmental prick, noticing some task (today it was no laundry, no shirts, no undershirts, and no underwear), but instead of getting upset about it, I still love her even though she often doesn't have her act together.  But, then again, I almost never have my act together either, so who am I judging?

I'm reading a book right now by Don Miguel Ruiz, "The Four Agreements," and I am very impressed.  It teaches that you should love your wife the way you love your pet.  If they don't want to play, no sweat.  We don't take it personally, and we don't question whether our relationship will survive, or whether the cat treats me with enough respect or whether the cat loves me the way I want to be loved, etc.  Even on bad days, we still love our cat.  We feed her, we hold her, and we play with her.

Another point in the book that I am working on grasping is that "your wife is not perfect, and neither are you.  But her flaws are her flaws.  Her mess is her mess.  Her problems are her problems.  Take care of your own mess, work on your own flaws, deal with your own problems and love your wife as she is with her mess."  So this morning, I stayed home and I did the laundry -- I did the whites load and the adult color load.  Thus, I am wearing underwear, I have a clean undershirt, and I'm happy.

So, ten years, huh??  Am I really that much different?  Not really.  I am still the same person with the same flaws.  I've figured out a few things as far as my own emotional makeup; I've come to terms with my failings in my religious observance; and I'm seeing a therapist to deal with the childhood traumas I experienced so that I can "decompartmentalize" various experiences and emotions that I have locked up over the past, that way I can live healthily and lovingly with my family.  Ten years... I learned that money and support comes from G-d, and whatever he believes is appropriate for me, I'll find a way to make... as long as I go to work.

And are there still areas in which I need to improve?  You better believe it!  I wouldn't be surprised if I read the blog from the beginning and I found that I still have most of the issues I had ten years ago.  But I'm older now... wiser, sort of.  And, more calm about my world, my surroundings, and my life.  I have a deeper sense of G-d, and a deeper understanding of how he forms and expresses himself in our screwed up, corrupted, anti-semetic world.  But I don't worry (actually, YES I certainly worry), but in theory, I don't worry -- everything is all according to G-d's plan.


Friday, August 22, 2014

I do not have the freedom to follow you, Matisyahu.

I know I may be years off on this, but this is the first time I am actually taking a glimpse at the transition Matisyahu made from frum-looking to new age, aesthetic and free.

When it happened, it was a scandal and I felt that someone I looked up to defected from the path, and I couldn't help but to be angry at him making his fame on what appeared to be the backs of Chabad.  I felt that I lost a friend.  We didn't know each other, but there were many occasions where we prayed together as part of the same minyan in Crown Heights.  I knew who he was, and I knew he didn't know anything about me and I didn't care because I felt that I was in the presence of greatness -- someone who was able to hold onto the frum foundation and live an authentic life.  He brought the light to the profane and stayed shining.

But then he evolved further and broke out of the mold, and while I always appreciated his transition into other frum looks, it was only THIS EVENING -- August 22nd, 2014 -- that I was shaken when I saw for the first time his grey haired, clean-shaven look.

Tonight is NOT the first night I have ever seen him clean shaven.  Tonight was the first time I saw him clean shaven and didn't cringe.

I must have spent the last five hours watching every interview he did on YouTube, and as I thought I was feeling the pain for him that he may have lost his way, I realized that the pain wasn't for him, but for me because I do not have the guts to do what he did and AUTHENTICITY is not a reality I am willing to toy with, and this perceived weakness on my part made me sad.

Everyone who knows me on this blog knows my childhood was messed up.  To my parents' credit, they tried hard, but there was so much bad that happened, and the damage it did to me (and now to my children from my emotional absence and inability to cope with what should be easy problems) was indescribable.  Part of me is even ashamed for my parents that their own son writes these things about them, but good intentioned or not, the things HAPPENED, and they happened under their control and their supervision.

So now I have my own family, and so far, it looks as if I am doing things right.  I am sticking to the Lubavitch frum lifestyle, keeping all the kashrut stringencies, learning Chassidus, enjoying Gemara, and raising a chassidic household with our little quirks [which we can attribute to Netflix, our savior from drowning in the Chassidic world, and also our "Mr. Gold" demon (reference to the 2005 Revolver movie) hurting the purity of our otherwise chassidishe home].  I love Netflix; I really do.

In sum, I appreciate the steps Matisyahu has made in his own growth and in breaking free from the boundaries which chained him.  I too am imprisoned, but the chains give me structure and boundaries -- something I could not provide my children on my own because I never learned structure nor boundaries from my parents.  That being said, I cannot feel a bit of pain churning at my heart chakra about choosing NOT to be free.  I am a slave to G-d, to Judaism, to Chabad, and to this world, but I am a slave because I do not trust myself to be free.

I have thought many times of shaving my beard, but I never would consider doing so for real.  I am so careful to keep my beard that I have woken up on at least 3 or 4 times over the years from nightmares where I accidentally shaved off the beard in my dreams, and I regretted doing so immediately upon waking.  There were reasons I grew the beard, and YES, I TOO was pressured by a Rabbi [whom I still love and trust to have my best interests at heart] to keep the beard.  Funny how in every dream, my fear was that by shaving the beard I disappointed my Rabbi.  You have no idea how lucid those dreams were -- on more than one occasion, I woke up and ran to the mirror only to experience a huge sigh of relief that it was only a dream.

The pressure my Rabbi put on me to keep my beard is the same pressure every Rabbi puts on a baal teshuva who grows a beard for the right reasons, and then to prevent the newly minted baal teshuva from sliding back in his Jewish observance, he pressures him to keep the beard as an identity marker.  I often thought, "I'm a Jew, and by looking like a Jew, it would be awkward to find myself at a strip club, or doing something that would be a chilul Hashem (disgrace to Hashem) -- not as long as I'm wearing His beard."  The funny thing is that my experience was that the pressure came from conformity, but conformity was a value to aspire to because with it comes structure, family, G-d, connection, spirituality, and the unsaid promise of a good life.  But I am anything but conformity, and that becomes apparent as soon as you look beneath the skin into my soul.

For my children and their children's children and all the generations that G-d willing will come from my sacrifice of comfort to conform to the best of my ability to the greys, blues, blacks, and whites, I keep the beard and I hinder my own authentic expression of myself.  Survival and the identity for my children is too strong a value to consider otherwise.  For this reason, I cannot follow you Matisyahu down this path; I simply cannot allow myself the freedom to do what you can do unscathed.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Thoughts about Virtual Reality and Mini-fight with Wife.

Okay, so I understand that my last post or so was a bit too much to handle.  I was essentially telling you that the world is not real, all at the same time you are banging your head against the table asking, "you tellin' me this doesn't hurt?!?"

I'm not being an idiot.  Obviously we are living in a reality that we cannot disconnect ourselves from.  And, I'm contending with concepts like free will, and -- are we merely an observer plugged in and irrevocably connected to our digital body self until death??  And, if we are merely an observer of thoughts, feelings, events, people, and ourselves -- a higher self or soul or whatever having a "human" experience, are these "things" that are happening a reflection of ourselves? Are we deciding where we will go in life?  Or am I -- the entity of sorts -- creating this experience and the player that I call "me" AND the world I'm living in for my own personal growth?

I was grappling with this, because it is a mistake to say that I am a "passive observer irrevocably trapped and imprisoned" in the mind of my body, because perhaps "ein od milvado," or "Hashem's creative power" is the one that is creating this world around me and the people in it for the purpose of giving my soul an experience.  Or, perhaps the purpose is to build a "dirah b'tachtonim," or a dwelling place for Hashem, but I'm not yet there in reconciling that thought.  But the real REASON we are here is not clear to anyone because we CANNOT know anything other than the reality we are plugged into.  So this is perhaps an exercise of futility, right?

Perhaps not.

Let's pretend that Hashem's creative power is creating the world, and my consciousness (which could be my awareness of myself, or it could be my neshama or whatever) being nullified to Hashem's creative power but sensing itself through the miraculous tzimtzumim is watching a movie where "reality" is happening.  But is it "me" who is typing this article?  Is it "me" who decided to write?  Is the desire to communicate and write coming from me?  I feel it in "my" heart, but am I real?  Or, as an observer of this "reality," am I watching myself have these thoughts, make these decisions, and live this life?

I am going around in circles because it appears as if science is now saying that we are living in a hologram of sorts, as if we are experiencing a movie.  I could envision on a crude level myself at some point in the future taking off a virtual reality headset when "I" die, and while it appears as if I have lived 120 years, perhaps only a few hours has passed.  Perhaps the virtual reality headset was running a program called "the life of Zoe Strickman."  I wouldn't know this until I take off the headset.  But on some level, my experience is the life IN the headset, and I cannot do anything about it.

But perhaps it is not a linear movie that has a start, a middle, or an end.  Perhaps my movie can be influenced by my higher self, just as the characters in "The Hunger Games" were given gifts to help them survive their game.  Perhaps the higher "me" -- the guy wearing the VR headset -- can change my world or escalate my experience to "Level 2" when I beat the boss or complete the objectives of "Level 1."  Maybe my world is a game, and I am the player my higher self plugs himself into.

Whatever, who cares.  I am upset that when sharing this with my wife after having an inkling of rapport, she opened up to some concept of death that affected her personally, and I missed it.  I didn't realize she was having a "moment," and I continued on my thought process.  So as a result, she shut down and there was a mini-fight.  And I feel rotten because I wanted to be aware of those moments so that I can connect with her, and I suck because I missed it.

Being a husband is so damn difficult.  It's like being a soldier on watch for the slightest dot on my radar screen, and if I miss it, forget about it -- I'm nuked.  Why can't things be easier?  Why is everything regarding intimacy, trust, and having a connection a test?!?  I don't test her; why does she test me?  No fair.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Holographic theory applied to Torah and Chassidic Concepts.

Okay, Robert Scheinfeld time.  Before I go over to his materials, I want to express my thanks to Hashem for sharing what is appearing to be a path for me.

A month or so ago, I stumbled upon a set of videos entitled, "The Holographic Universe" by Stephen Davis.  Stephen's theory is based on the book by Michael Talbot with the same name, and apparently there is a whole new group of self-help gurus who are using their understanding of quantum physics (as if that is a cool term to throw around) -- specifically, the "double slit" experiment (something VERY COOL to watch over and over and mull over), and they are imposing their philosophical belief systems upon the quantum theory to churn out what seems to be a hologram-theory of our reality and our experience.

First of all, the video set is available for free for download at http://www.holographicuniverseworkshops.com/, and in my opinion, I enjoyed watching EVERY MINUTE of the five hours of videos the workshop provided.  In fact, it really opened my eyes to a number of Chassidic concepts I have learned over the years, and it has allowed me to see the concept of "ein od milvado," or, "there is nothing but Hashem (our creator)" in a very new light.

My current understanding of the concept (applying my Jewish understanding of what I have read so far in Chassidus-based texts) is simply this.  Life as we know it is "happening" for us because we are in the hologram which is projecting our reality around us.  However, the "us" (or more personally, the "I" that I experience every day (including my moods, my thoughts, any itches, scratches, sniffles, or sneezes I experience, and any happy or sad feelings I experience) is really a holographic projection, and I experience these experiences AS THOUGHTS.  To take a stab and integrating Judaism into the holographic theory (or vice versa), it appears to me as if our Neshama (soul) is creating our human experience that we perceive ourselves as physically being *in*, and we go through our lives making choices and living and experiencing the consequences of our choices.

To understand the real "us," you need to think of a movie screen.  The movie screen itself does not change when a movie is projected onto it.  And, in "truth" (whatever that means,) we are the observer who is watching the movie that we ourselves are projecting onto the screen.  Our "human experience" is a movie that we have made for whatever purpose we have (or Hashem has) created it.  And, we appear to be the "star character" in our movie.  And, we can affect the outcome of our movie because we have free will to make choices of how to act and what decisions to make in the movie (our holographic projection, our "world," or our hologram that was made just for us).  However, our mistake in perception is that in watching the movie, we mistakenly identify not with the observer watching the movie, but with the character in the movie, and we live life experiencing the various events, feelings, and emotions which the "player" or the "I" character in the movie goes through as he or she grows from being an infant, to a toddler, all the way through life, which ultimately ends in the death of our character.

Now obviously this theory is just a model, and I have not yet reconciled what it means as far as Torah and Mitzvos, Hashem, and other "players."  Apparently, from what Robert Schienfeld or Stephen Davis seem to describe, there are no other players in my hologram, and taking on the extreme narcissistic point of view, everyone in my world was created to be a reflection of me (as if you all are "extras" in my movie, and vice versa).  Now obviously, this would only be from the point of view of my "player," and other players would be experiencing their "human experiences" through their own holograms where every person in their hologram (in this case, you as the player created me, Zoe Strickman the blogger to reflect yourself back to you) creates and experiences everyone else, even me, but if you are reading this, then I am your creation.  For now, I am assuming that there is a "common hologram" or "common world" -- holographic or not -- "in" which we all live, whether or not this "common world" is real, and as things stand, I can't make heads or tails of the theory of "there is no you, but only me," and I need to hash it out further to understand the implications.

G-d can easily still exist in a hologram-based existence.  Whether it is my Neshama (soul) or my higher consciousness (if there is such a thing) that is creating the holographic experience for me [or not], it could just as easily be one G-d that is creating all holographic experiences.  But, for reasons I don't yet understand, G-d is a creator of the "higher self" or "consciousness" (what I am calling my Neshama), and the model suggests that "He" is not the one creating our hologram for us to live in.  I think the reason for this is because we are not really "in" the hologram, but rather, we are experiencing "it" as an observer (which would logically put us "outside" of the hologram).  [I'm using quotes because I'm not sure the hologram is physical, but if I think of the double-slit experiment relating to quantum mechanics, I would posit that our hologram is a wave form in its natural state, but as we look at it, we become the "observer" and as such, we collapse the wave form into something we perceive as hard physical reality (e.g., I can bang on the wooden desk at which I am sitting, and I can hear the clicks of my laptop's keyboard as I type, but in reality, there may be no table, laptop, or keyboard -- by observing, I may simply be collapsing the table which exists as a wave form (presumably the Hebrew letters spelling "SHULCHAN" [shin, lamed, chet, nun]) in what I perceive to be a physical object in my hologram, but when I turn around, like a video game which only shows what is in front of the player's focus, the table might revert to the wave form (or the Hebrew letters from which they are comprised).]  But who knows.  I am hashing this out and will continue to do so for months to come.

The easy thing to understand in the holographic experience is Torah and Mitzvos.  The creator G-d created the Torah which can easily be the "blueprint" or the "field" which quantum physics refers to when it refers to the "zero point field" from which each person's personal hologram and/or their own personal "holographic universe" comes from.  In other words, every universe in the multiverse (assuming an infinite permutations of what can come out of the field, and hence an infinite number of holograms or so-called "physical" universes) which is created comes from the field, which, according to Judaism could easily be the Torah which G-d wrote.  We learn from the Midrash Rabbah in explaining the word "Bereishis" that "G-d looked into the Torah and created the world," [just as scientifically, a laser can be aimed at a hologram and out pops out a 3D holographic image.]  [Side note: Now read what Rabbi Akiva Tatz wrote in his article on torah.org with this new perspective.  Weird, huh?]  As such, as Jews, we understand that in every holographic universe, there are still rules (commandments) which are dictated by G-d and written into the blueprint which is Torah.  And, if Torah is the blueprint, then halacha and mitzvos are the structures and rules by which we are judged by our actions as positive and negative consequences in our world.

BUT that still doesn't preclude the fact that we are not necessarily "in" our hologram, but rather, we are observers of a "movie" to which we associate ourselves as the main character in that movie, without realizing that the being "in" the movie is living within the hologram that we have created (or that has been created for us).  As such, every emotion, feeling, and idea in the hologram (the "movie") is a THOUGHT which is projected into the "mind" of the player through whom we act in our "human experience;" in our holographic world.  And, because Hashem creates us and our world every single second (the world is not a lump of clay that has an inkling of its own existence), it could be understood that the holographic universe is not a stable "thing" that exists on its own;  rather, at every instant, BECAUSE Hashem is re-creating the holographic universe that we live in at every instant, in two seconds from now, he could create a universe where something has changed (a bird is now "placed" at the other side of a room), or where someone's mind changes (e.g., a potential business partner decides to work with you, or an enemy decides to make peace with you), or where some small "fact" is changed.  The holographic world we live in at 12:21pm might be a different world at 12:22pm because either G-d or our higher selves changed something in the programming code of the hologram.  (My intuition is that it is G-d who is looking into the field and creating our existence, but the current holographic-quantum-theory psychology suggests that G-d is merely the creator of everything including our consciousnesses (perhaps in Robert Scheinfeld's words, he is "pure creative essence,"), but [for some reason,] WE are the ones projecting our own holographic universes from the field, not G-d, and then we trick ourselves into thinking that the hologram is real.  This doesn't yet sit well with me, unless the suggestion is that he is teaching the concept of "ein od milvado," meaning that there is NOTHING BUT THE PURE CREATIVE ESSENCE, or in short, nothing but G-d.)

Just for fun, watch this thought taken from Rabbi Yisroel Ciner's torah.org article from Parshas Chaya Sarah [my comments in brackets]:
The Nesivos Sholom explains that it was Hashem's chessed which brought Him to create the world [think, "He creates our physical world as our own personal hologram"]. Hashem needed nothing but wanted to share His goodness with others. Furthermore, the world, having been created 'yesh ma'ayin' {something from nothing} is in the constant, perilous state of being unable to continue to exist on its own. It is only through a constant re-creation, every single second of time [think, so long as the supernal laser shines into the field and creates the hologram], through which Hashem's chessed (kindness) enables this world to continue to exist.
And now, read what Rabbi Avraham Kahn writes in a shemayisrael.com article on Parshas Tzaria-Metzorah, entitled, "The World Was Made For Me" [again, my comments in brackets]:

Everything for me
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 37a) tells us that every person is obligated to say, "The world was created for me." [think, MY holographic "world" (meaning, holographic projection of my personal "human experience" which I (being the Neshama or consciousness OUTSIDE of the holographic projection) identify as my reality) was made for me (to act through, to do mitzvahs, to avoid aveiros, and to experience "a human experience" with all consequences of my actions.] Rashi explains that this should bring a person to think that if I am so important, and the whole world [or think, my holographic "human experience," or "my hologram"] was created just for me, then how could I think of doing even one transgression [e.g., why fight what is "wrong" within the world (e.g., I'm too fat, I don't have enough money, etc.) when everything (even reality itself) was made for my benefit.]. This attitude brings us to stop in our tracks whenever we have a choice to make. However, the arrogant may say that if the whole world was created for me, then I expect everyone and everything to serve my needs [if understanding the hologram FROM this section, it implies that even in my personal hologram which was made for my benefit and my spiritual growth, there is still a G-d and Torah, mitzvos, and halachas that we are obligated to follow]. Just like children who expect their every wish to be fulfilled, the arrogant expect that their needs will be treated with priority over everything else.

In sum for now, obviously I am working through the holographic world theory of reality which seems to be the current "self-help" theory of reality based on what people understand or misunderstand of our current understanding of quantum physics. To understand what I am talking about, go watch the "Holographic Universe" videos on http://www.holographicuniverseworkshops.com, read one of Robert Scheinfeld's books, and then take one or more of his courses.  I must say that at the moment, it appears as if we differ as to the purpose of the holographic universe; it appears to me that the authors believe that "we created ourselves to have an experience [to experience stuff]," and understanding of the purpose of the holographic universe is to dogmatically reconcile what we appear to understand with the concepts of G-d, Torah, and Mitzvos.  However you believe and FOR WHATEVER PURPOSE the universe was created, for now, it appears as if there is no real and persistent physical universe, but rather, a "hologram" or "holographic blueprint" of what we call the physical universe -- what chassidus describes as the lowest world which is called "Asiyah" (which is spiritual), in which we mistakenly identify our true selves as being "the player" in the hologram rather than understanding and getting excited by the creation (or the creator of such a magnificent creation [with all its details and its unlimited depths]), and we perceive the creation as being "real."

Now to bring The Matrix movies into this, I could re-write this entire article, and every place I say the "hologram," you can supplement "the matrix" and you'd get a similar idea of the concept of a hologram.  However, where I differ from the Matrix movies is that I don't think that we are some "brain in a vat" experiencing or being "plugged in" (literally through our necks and our spines) into reality.  But rather, I am starting to think that as soon as we understand that "there is no spoon," we will not unplug, chos v'sholom, and we will not escape to an alternate world where we are eating slobber in ships that avoid robot machines who want to kill us.  But rather, once we learn the truth, we will start to live IN our hologram with a new set of rules.  Our world and our hologram will probably start to change because we will understand it better, and we will get an inkling as to what is outside of the hologram.

What I respected about the Holographic Universe videos is that the author (Stephen Davis) flat-out said that "we cannot know what is going on or what is really happening on the OTHER SIDE of the hologram because it is simply not accessible to us," meaning, our consciousness is firmly ROOTED "in" the hologram (or in other words, we are the observer who's eyes are glued to the screen upon which our world is being broadcast).  We cannot disengage or unplug from reality, and we cannot know whether the entity creating the hologram is G-d, an angel, our higher selves (if such things exist), our Neshamas (or some level of our souls), a guardian, or whatever.  All we know is that we are an observer "collapsing the wave" (more on this in another post) and experiencing "reality" through the player with whom we identify as "I."

I suspect that through meditation I can focus on [one glimpse at a time] the boundary-less "movie screen" upon which we project our holographic world.  This movie screen has no "up," no "down," no "left," and no "right."  Rather, we can imagine ourselves floating in any direction with no perception of "where we are on the screen of the movie screen," and the reason for this is because the movie screen is not a physical entity, but a spiritual entity without known boundaries.  So I could -- in my mind -- make flips, fly circles, etc. in my own mind-space (the "movie screen" upon which my hologram ("real world") is projected), and I wouldn't know whether I moved up or down because the screen goes on forever and ever in every direction.

Thinking of my movie screen is certainly exciting, but I don't think my consciousness can perceive anything farther back then that.  Maybe there is no movie screen either.

-Zoey

PS - On a personal note, isn't it interesting that when I was younger, I spent so much time reading Stanislav Grof's books,"The Holotropic Mind," and "The Adventure of Self-Discovery."  It was in the '90's, and as a college student, I was roaming through the University library, and I don't remember why, but I was pulled to his books.  For all I know the topics he writes about versus what I am discussing here are not related, but how cool would it be if they ARE related.  I spent so much time reading them, and now years later I find this stuff so relevant to my "path," as if I was shown hints of my path even many years ago. 

Healing pent-up feelings through release techniques.

I have been reading many books on anger lately because I would really like to get rid of the pent-up feelings I have been holding onto so tightly for so many years.  Obviously harboring such feelings is not good for my health, and it is certainly not good for my marriage or for the well-being of my children.  The goal is to be a more "calm" and loving father rather than a distracted father who gets headaches quite frequently.  It daunts me that when I exchange a cute smile with my now four-month-old infant that I get a whole-face headache as if I am in physical pain from the happiness.  Or, when I have a great time with the kids, my heart hurts and I find that I need time to recuperate as if I was just punched in the gut, as if painful memories that happened so many years ago creep up on me.

So I am seeing a therapist who is helping me with my anger and issues relating to having a difficult time connecting with people, and at my request, he is helping me see patterns in my current feelings that have their source in my past.  Why? So that I can learn to release and overcome the old feelings -- this appears to be the modern-day psychology version of "healing" -- so that my heart can open and so I can be "present" with my children and my wife and so that I can experience healthy feelings and interact with my family in ways that too will help them feel loved.

But man is this a painful thing to go through.  I know because for some reason, old feelings have been coming up out of nowhere saying, "take care of me too, please," and when they pass through me, it hurts and I want to cry.  Yeah, right, me cry.  I mean, they pass through me and I cringe my face in pain, close my eyes, and breath.  I think, "this is an old feeling that didn't get a chance to be expressed many years ago.  I am lucky to be experiencing this now because that means that the old feeling (whatever it related to) is now being healed."  What bugs me is that I know that it is my natural inclination to push the feelings away once again and prevent them from affecting me.  But I know that this is the reason I am closed emotionally, and this is the thing I need to "fix."

In my heart, I know that if I really want to make some headway in this "releasing" thing, I should probably dig up my old courses on the Sedona Method, because the whole concept taught by the Sedona Method was all about releasing feelings.

On a related note, I am also reading "the untethered soul" by Michael Singer, a book which also talks about releasing and a bunch more.  I have found it helpful in my search for resolving old feelings, and I am enjoying the book.

Lastly -- and I will go into this in more depth in another post -- the weird thing in my life is that in my search for healing and understanding of the world around me, it seems as if various "holographic" theory-type books keep finding their way to me.  I have also spent a lot of time reading Robert Scheinfeld's books on Phase 2 thinking -- a topic for a later post.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The difficulties in being a dysfunctional father.

As usual, it has been many months since I have written.  I am still running my law firm, still a father and a husband to my growing family, and still a functional member of my community.

However, nobody read about the "Zoe Strickman" character to learn about how "normal" he was.  Rather, you guys read my blog and followed it (sometimes for years) because of how dysfunctional I really am.  So here you go -- a bit of food.

SECRETS:
First of all, I apologize for my explicit dislike of my own blog -- it symbolizes and exposes everything that is weak, bent, and broken in my life.  My secrets are here, and as I learned quite a while ago, my identity is known to a few of you who still read my posts.  Some of you live in my city, in my town.  Some of you take your kids to the same school as me, and yet when we see each other in the hallway, I know you know me and I know you, but I am too shy and/or embarrassed to open up to you because you know my secrets and you can share them with the world and destroy me.

Yes, secrets can destroy a person, and they have been eating away at me each day.  I have been very stressed lately -- vulnerable, and easy to anger.  My tolerance for stress has been very low lately, and I have been having a difficult time focusing at work or showing up for meetings.  I would rather hide in my cubicle at the office space I rent than meet potential clients because I have a difficult time being "on top of my game," or even sometimes being able to form coherent sentences.

I spend so much energy each night putting the kids to bed, and then instead of going to bed myself, I sit down at my laptop, turn on Netflix or play a game on Steam, and then the hours melt away from me, as does the stress and the tension of the day.  The problem becomes each night, I look at the clock when I finally crash a game from playing with the code and "modding" it to the point of instability, and it is often 2:30am or later.  Then in the morning, I am expected to wake up with the kids, feed them breakfast, make them lunches, and spend time with them until it is time for them to go to school.

NEW BABY AND FIGHT OVER MY INSENSITIVITY:
The reason it is me who has taken on all the morning chores and the extra legwork rather than my wife doing what she ordinarily (extraordinarily) does is because my wife is resting because she was just up all night [yet again] feeding our newborn baby.

Proving to her that I am not a "subhuman" selfish husband (her words; I actually would have taken on all the extra tasks with happiness if I were only asked), I have been happy to take on the new role of father AND mother while my wife rests from the birthing process.

If I were a better person (or if I were given the ability to be HUMAN or PSYCHIC, I would have not been oblivious to the fact that my wife was recovering from the birthing process and the day she returned from the hospital, I would have sent her upstairs and I would have done everything she does without getting into a fight over what a terrible husband I was for not taking on tasks without being asked.  As the moronic husband, after running around non-stop while she was in the hospital recovering from giving birth, when she returned two days later, I mistakenly assumed that since she was home from the hospital -- no epidural, on her feet immediately afterwards -- that she was back and ready to bathe the kids and resume her regular activities, and I would resume mine.  I even took two days off from the law firm calling it "unpaid paternity" where I stayed home with her and the kids so that she wouldn't be alone with them, but it obviously was not enough.  I honestly didn't realize that I was supposed to be the hero who does everything I do -- run a firm, help with the house, play with the kids, etc. -- AND also do everything she does so that she could rest and bond with the baby after coming home from the hospital.)  FYI, this was also right before Pesach, so everything was disorganized to start with both at home and at work -- I had cancelled meetings, client matters that needed to be closed up for the holidays, deadlines, and... the birth of our daughter.

I HAVE BEEN DISTANT LATELY:
Yes, we are on our sixth child.  Our children go to yeshiva, and my oldest child is now seven years old.  Our children sing Torah songs that they learned in school, and they fight over who plays with what toy, or who sat in who's spot at the table.  They are very good children, and I love them dearly.  However, I have been distant, and my wife has noticed my lower tolerance for stress these past few months.

She has urged me to see a psychologist to resolve my past family issues, and in the past, I have refused because I could not justify spending hundreds of dollars on myself.  Last year, we went to marriage counseling at $160 per session, and we went for quite a few months every week, and it certainly helped.  We learned some really good skills and techniques for getting along, but after everything was said and done, we learned how to be "civil" with each other and to diffuse fights before they happen.  We have not, however, developed the close intimate relationship that a husband and wife should have with each other.  We certainly trust each other and lean on each other, but I don't always consider her a friend, and rarely does she willingly confide in me about her feelings.  Even asking about the events of her day seems to be intrusive on her privacy.

I also don't open up to her because every time I have, she has judged me or stepped on me.  I have in the past few days decided to get help for my inner struggles / issues relating to being able to connect with other people (as she calls it), and it was only as of this afternoon that I think that I've found a therapist.  I meet with him next week.

I FOUND A THERAPIST TO WORK ON MY LATENT ANGER ISSUES:
The funny thing is that I didn't want to tell my wife the name of my therapist because I did not want her to jump to conclusions about his specialties.  This therapist deals with adolescent and family issues relating to abuse, and he also deals with "issues of attachment and bonding" and "disorders of intimacy" -- things that are right up my alley as far as getting help with my issues. I also don't really want to open up to her about the content of my conversations with my therapist.  We have been married for EIGHT YEARS now, and I really don't feel like being judged, criticized, or put down.

HINDSIGHT ON MARRIAGE COUNSELING:
What I cannot share is that I have been so wound up these past few months (and really, these past few years) because I have been angry at my own failings as a human being, as a father, and as a husband.  My lack of a connection with my wife hurts me, and I don't know what to do that I have an unhealthy relationship with my wife.  We went to marriage counseling last year, but we ended it because my wife ended it.  She flat-out told the therapist that she had no interest in working on her relationship with me, and that my relationship with her was simply not important to her and that it was the children alone that were the focus of her life (and she meant it; I was merely a tool or a piece of meat [an indentured servant] to go to work and put food on the table).  On that note, the therapist told her that she could not continue if both parties were unwilling to work on the relationship.  It was also our contention to end the marriage counseling because we hit a wall -- we did not feel as if we were benefiting from the sessions any more as they were getting repetitive.  On my end, I felt that there was an inequality in the focus of the sessions because I was usually the punching bag of our sessions, and my objections were almost never considered and/or worked on.

My experience of the marriage counseling was this -- I had an issue I wanted to work on in the relationship.  She complained that I did not do X, Y, or Z.  The therapist somehow convinced me to do X, Y, or Z, and the session ended.  Rinse and repeat, week after week.  At the end of our sessions, I was (and still am...) no longer working my law firm even 30 hours a week, I was no longer working past 6pm or 7pm, and I was waking up with the kids, making them lunches, and then coming home for the arduous exercise of getting them to bed.  I dropped all aspirations of finding a new area of law or making more money than what automatically came in by the grace of G-d, and I have been showing up to work a zombie, and I have been coming home and putting the kids to bed only to collapse in front of my laptop after their bedtime.

WELTSCHMERZ:
"Go to sleep you idiot!" you might scream at me.  Well, if I did not have my nights and my evenings to play video games and/or relax, I don't think I would survive.  Rather, I think I would die of boredom and unhappiness for the routine dullness of my life.  It is funny how I call my large and unusually busy life boring, but I find that it lacks meaning.  I don't even like to daven (pray) and my spiritual life is lifeless.  My kids are loving and kind, and they need and crave my warmth and loving attention, but while I do love spending time with them, usually I find myself simply looking for activities and/or time wasters so that we can get to bedtime.  Since the baby has been born, I have taken them to the zoo twice, I have taken them bowling, and I have taken them to the park... all five of them.  These were Sunday activities and "kids are home for Pesach break" activities.  We all had a blast at these events, but I had a hard time not obsessing over them touching toilets when they peed, or touching walls, fences, and gates which I know are never cleaned and are probably full of thousands of various kinds of bacteria, and I'm really in no mood for another bout of "pink eye" which circulates around the family for a days at a time, going from child-to-child, no matter how many times we nag them to wash their hands over and over again.

Page stats surprise.

Wow... I wrote only like 3 articles last year, and I just looked at my traffic stats after writing the most recent article (it sort of popped up on its own when I went to the blogger.com dashboard).

40-60 page views each day, every day!

Whoa, I cannot believe people still read this thing.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Little Old Me Getting Inspired About The Phantom of the Opera Yet Again.

672 Posts and years later, only four of you are left following my blog.  So... perhaps all of my old readers who hated the person I was have all left, and I'm all by my lonesome again to write a real journal without worrying who is watching every word I say.

I am feeling a bit saddened tonight.  I found a "Pianist HD" program on my tablet a few nights ago, and I decided to support the developers for making a good product, and I bought the entire program.  The program in one sentence converts the MIDI music files into a "Guitar Hero" format for the piano.  So, I loaded up the Phantom of the Opera medley, and I followed along with my real piano [which I have not touched in around seven years] playing the tunes and hitting the chords just as the program was signing the vocal portions of the various songs at the same time.

First, since playing Phantom of the Opera was my musical to play on the piano, I knew the words to the songs and the chords I was terribly hammering out.  Yet, as I was playing, I noticed that my fingers began to remember what notes to play next.  It was a bit eerie.

I stopped the program, and played many of the jazz and blues tunes I mastered as a younger child.  It was a bit eerie to me that I no longer remembered many of the tunes, but my fingers remembered how to play them.  So I played through a classical piece I spent years working on, then got the bumble-bee something tune playing with metronome precision (I remember how hard I used to work to get the left hand to play the same time as the right hand).  Then, as I was playing a Phantom song, my heart opened up and I ran to my wife to call her over so she can hear me play the phantom song -- something I once could do, but until now, I forgot how to play.  She didn't seem that interested -- she patted me on the shoulder, and got back to researching more important things for us.

I continued to play now with the door closed, but I was saddened.  This playing brought out such emotion in me, and all of a sudden, I felt distant from my wife because the feelings that were being evoked were past feelings of hope, dreams, excitement, and pain -- the many emotional experiences both terribly rewarding and many painful that I went through before and during college.  I was a young boy with hopes and dreams to live the life of theater, and all of that died when I decided to do what was "right," and so I went to college to become a doctor.  Oh well, who knew.

All my years I always was bewitched by the story in the Phantom of the Opera.  I identified with the Phantom, but I had the voice of Christine.  I was pulled in to the story -- the love, the romance, the rejection the Phantom experienced daily, and the excitement of teaching a young talent as a maestro to be great.  Why?  Because the phantom, as deformed as he was behind his mask, he was great.  He was idealistic, he was educated, he was talented, and he was very skilled... yet he was an outcast as I often felt that I was.  I identified deeply with his sadness because it was in spite of his sadness that he reached out to help someone to greatness while he sank deeper and deeper into his shadows.

Anyway, I didn't feel like doing the ordinary thing and watching Netflix, or playing a video game -- tonight after experiencing what I did, I wanted to WRITE.  I also wanted to sing, but I have no audience, no current training, and no desire to leave my law practice so that I can pursue my dreams of broadway and stardom.  I also have a family which is the most important thing to me.  I wouldn't ever give them up, even if the dream materialized and the gates to broadway, movies, singing, acting, and superstar opened up for me.  It is just a reality that I live with -- knowing that I can, but dropping the skill on the side of a road with a thump, ditching the G-d-given-skill as if it was a lump of coal never to be heated or used for oil or heat.  Rather, it is a stained, dirty rock that has no use to me.

Anyway, life is a mess, the world is a mess, the governments are a mess, the economy is a mess, and my dreams are dead, and I am doing what my grandfather and his grandfather did before him.  I am raising a Jewish family, working to provide comfort and security to my family so that we can raise our children in a chassidishe environment so that they can grow with the moral and spiritual foundations and the security that I was not given as a child.  I do what my rabbi does -- I live life one day at a time.  I work on little goals, accomplish one thing at a time, and I remain small and invisible to the world.  I am just one more "hat" in the crowd.  I am just one more father with five kids, all young and very close in age.  I never ended up fixing my faults in yiddishkeit (as in not showing up for minyanim or socializing with the CH community), but I am quiet and people see me and say hello.  But I will never be famous, and I will never amount to anything big.  I will never have the Phantom of the Opera story happen to me from any perspective, but then again, I will never be seduced by a deranged maniac for my abilities, nor will I be hunted by those around me.  I live a boring, simple, perhaps meaningful life.  I am a mildly successful, but very small lawyer with clients and a very small practice.  I support my family, pay the bills, have enough for tzedakka, yeshiva education, the occasional new gadget, and regular vacations for my family and kids.  I work hard, I play hard (with my kids), I contribute both emotionally and physically to be the father my wife and my family needs me to be, I play video games, I watch Netflix, I learn lots of Torah, I mess with operating systems and accidentally open and disassemble external hard drives and break them while trying to fix them, and I try to get by life without expending too much energy because in my life, that is the one thing I squander by not being organized.

This is little old me.  Getting pepper streaks in my hair, not nearly as healthy as I would have wanted myself to be at this point in my life, but I am happy.  I like my life, I love my kids, I love my wife, and I love the person I have become.  I don't know what will happen tomorrow, nor do I know what direction I will take my now-stable-but-formerly-dying-law-firm, but I trust in G-d and hope that he'll direct me because it is no longer only my own life that I am taking care of, but now I have many lives that are dependent on me, so I do what I need to do to get by.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Thoughts about Kashrus and Community Standards (after many years of living in a Chabad community).

It feels as if it has been many years since my last post.  The reason I am writing this post is because ON MORE THAN ONE OCCASION, I have done searches online for innocuous questions, such as whether a "V hechure" is kosher, and my own twisted articles on Triangle-K popped up (back from when I was figuring things out as far as frumkeit and yiddishkeit).  For this reason, I am writing this article.

I guess all I want to say is that there were many (many) posts in my past where I gave messed up and twisted viewpoints as far as frumkeit, yiddishkeit, halachas, and specifically Chabad and Lubavich, and all I can say is that I was certainly NOT a halachic source because I was just becoming frum myself trying to understand everything.

Like the hataras nedarim ("annulment of vows") that we say before each Rosh Hashanna, I do not "rue" the things I have said or done, especially because each blog posting was done in good faith with the intention of investigating and understanding each issue that an orthodox jew faces.  There were many times that I came to the wrong conclusion, or that I had a twisted argument or conclusion.  Now many years later, I am still growing in my frumkeit, and for many things, I am not sure whether I have understood everything, or whether I have simply taken the halacha for what it is.  As a general rule, I follow both halacha (Jewish Law) and the community stringencies simply because 1) I am a Jew, 2) I am part of a jewish community.  I no longer question as much as I did years ago because 1) I have no time, and 2) I trust that the rabbis from previous generations had their heads on "way more straight" than our self-destructing society does.  So, relying on halacha becomes that much more convenient rather than figuring things out with my limited intellect.

In hindsight, my first introduction to the Lubavich yeshiva world was a boot-camp-like school for baalei teshuva bochurim (jewish men who are returning to orthodox judiasm after many years of not practicing the faith), where we were pressured by our peers and our Rabbis, and we were indoctrinated with rules and halachas, many times without explanations.  The yeshiva I went to simply wanted me to understand the laws and know "this is what we do, and this is what we do not do," rather than "this is the halacha, and this is where we are more stringent and here is the reason for our stringency."  The fault I experienced in my yeshiva was that the "rule" often came WITHOUT an explanation.  This frustrated me, especially since I had my step father whispering into my ear things that are patently FALSE, such as "if you go to the so-and-so [not kosher] meat plant, you'll find chassidic orthodox jews working there; thus, you can certainly eat their meat without a hechure."  Chos v'sholom! Not true.

Now I obviously have no intention of slurring a company or a hechure, and I have not seen this particular "we answer to a higher power" hot dog brand in many, many years.  That being said, you obviously need a reliable hechure on the food, and if a company doesn't have it, you simply do not eat that food.  Same deal with triangle-K, and many other so-called kosher certifications -- if you are careful about only putting kosher food into your body, you eat only kosher foods with good hecherim.

Now obviously there are many hecherim -- some better and more preferential than others -- and if you have a choice, you make a judgement call whether you want to eat the OU or the star-K.  Both are probably fine.  But, if you keep cholov yisroel, then things change, because even the OU certifies foods which are kosher, dairy, but not cholov yisroel.

Last, but not least, while even now years later I hold the assumption that there is probably corruption in the various kosher certification organizations, meaning that business tactics, high prices, and possibly bullying and misinformation about other hecherim are used, I still rely on the majority of orthodox rabbis who hold that certain hecherim are good, and others are simply not.

What I like, however, is that a number of kosher certification companies put out list of other certifications which are reliable.  For example, cRc puts out a list of kosher certification that we can rely on. That way, when you're in the store and you do not recognize a hecure, you can just look it up with your smartphone.

Anyway, in sum, the rule in jewish law for most things is that "you go with the majority."  So if most of the jewish world believes a certain hechure is good, you can rely that it is kosher.  If not, then it is probably NOT okay, but 1) question the hechure yourself by calling them up, 2) ask a rav, 3) find out what those in your community do, and then 4) make your own decision.  Keep in mind that on the strict side, many people keep stringencies such as "cholov yisroel," "pas yisroel," "bishul yisroel," and many people eat certain brands of meat (e.g., various "chassidishe hechures"), so what is "kosher" does not always mean that it is "kosher for us," a distinction I often teach my children while going through the isles in a Costco.

Also, now that we have been in a community for many years, in order to "fit" with the community (e.g., to have parents have their kids over our home without ANY questions of kashrut, etc.), there are also "community standards" that various communities adopt.  For example, when the Starbucks kashrus article came out a year or so ago, many communities (including mine) were drinking regular coffee from Starbucks without realizing that it might be considered dairy (a problem for us who keep cholov yisroel).  Now, because we know more about their practices of what-hot-water-goes-into-what-shot-glass, etc., many of us now order a cafe Americano (an espresso shot poured DIRECTLY into the cup, WITH NO SHOT GLASS). 

In sum, as you'll learn when you get married, have children, and become part of a community, you not only follow halacha, but you also adopt the stringencies of your local community.  And, you keep it BOTH IN AND OUT OF THE HOUSE.  I know this personally because I myself have made mental notes to myself that "so-and-so does not keep cholov yisroel," and "so-and-so eats XYZ meat sold at Costco," etc.  I love all these people and consider them to be my friends, but when my kids go to play at their house, I'll tell the parents not to feed them or to go out to get a pizza.

One more thing I have observed -- there are a lot of bad feelings when it comes to kashrut, specifically from people who do are more lenient, or from people who do not understand or follow the stricter stringencies of halacha and kashrut.  If you are more lax, I won't fault you -- I just won't eat at your house.  If you are stricter than me (e.g., schmaltz on Pesach), I admire you, but I wouldn't want to be you.  For me, I keep all the yisroels -- cholov yisroel, pas yisroel, bishul yisroel, and I only eat meat from Chassidishe hechures.  I wasn't always at this level, but I credit my wife for this, who has been the rock that forms the basis for the kashrut in our home.  It is very easy to keep all the stringencies when your wife is the one that does all the shopping.  She is my aishes chayil, and I adore and appreciate her for the hard work she has done over the years, and with G-d's assistance, more many, many more years to come.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Financial Tzniut & the Ayin Hara

Wow, I must be boring.

We are in my SEVENTH MONTH of our law firm bleeding money.  I have fired all of my workers and it is just me left in our empty office.  I sit here each day looking around the blogs and the news articles for my next area of practice.  Where are defendants being hurt the most?  Who is hurting people in a way that they would decide to call a lawyer?  And, what area are ordinary people being affected where they would go to a small-town-lawyer-with-a-laptop and an internet connection (an attorney like me) whereas the big corporations would hire the big name law firms.

I've courted the concepts of returning to black-and-white patent work.  The problem is that I talked about it a lot, but when it came down to clients retaining me, there wasn't that much going on.  "I could hit it in a big way," I think, but then it would be a decision to commit to going "Gung Ho" in this area to the exclusion of everything else.  Doing anything "gung ho" scares me because if I fail, then that's it.

In short, I have cut out all expenses and have dedicated myself these past few weeks to only doing research into new areas of law.  I have a few treatises on patent drafting, patent litigation, patent licensing, copyright law, and federal practice.  I am reading through these with a fury trying to get competent in the areas so that I can come up with ideas on what to do and what to practice and how to do it.  The problem with all of these is that I wonder whether a small time lawyer can do something as big as defending or fighting a patent battle. I also wonder how someone like me can attract new clients.  It's all so overwhelming.

Anyway, my personal life is no doubt suffering by my career stresses as well.  I come home cheerful, but my wife knows I am stressed.  I spend my evenings doing work, researching the blogs, and maybe having some time for a show on Hulu.com.  When I am not doing this, sometimes I isolate myself emotionally and just focus for hours of time on a video game.  I know this is not good for my marriage, but I'm having a difficult time coping with all this.

The issue which I keep cycling back to is G-d.  Obviously I need to make my own "vessel" for blessings to flow through them, and the way to create this vessel is by studying Torah, doing mitzvos, and davening to Hashem.  I've been working on this more than ever, but I feel that when everything breaks down, well, my Torah study falters, I isolate myself from my community, and I really don't want to daven to Hashem because I'm a bit bitter about everything that is going on.

In sum, when everything was good, I was showing up to minyanim (as much as I could), I was learning Torah each day (sometimes even with a schedule and with multiple chevrusas), and holy smokes -- if you knew the amount of tzedakka I gave last year and the year before, you'd be floored.  Part of me wishes we kept some of that for our savings fund and then things wouldn't be so bad now.

Now that things are dismal, I am really hurting and as childish as this sounds (and as wrong as it is on an intellectual level), I'm quite upset at Hashem for taking away my Parnossa.  We were so good.  We did so much to help people, our community, and our friends as far as giving of our time and our money.  We worked hard, and we did good work.  How is it that everything can be taken from us so quickly?

I've gone over my deeds 100 times, and my wife and I are pretty sure we understand that it must have been our lack of financial modesty (tzniut, or more commonly known as an "Ayin Hara") that has caused such a drastic change in our financial circumstances.  The economy has been so terrible to our family and our friends, and we have been overly happy and thankful for the huge amounts of berachas we have been given both in children, in health, and most of all, parnossa.  We purchased a house (well, we actually only moved into one and are paying rent to my in-laws), we bought a nice (but used) minivan, and we purchased season tickets to Six Flags and various water parks and museums.  We went on vacations visiting family and friends in other states across the U.S., often staying at hotels and eating out in nice restaurants (happily paying for our family who often joined us).  On some occasions, if we couldn't fly, we would sometimes buy tickets for members of our family to visit us, whether it was for a holiday or to allow my wife to visit her family in Israel for a few days.  We went from poverty (not kidding, we were applying for food stamps and low-income health insurance at one point) to riches and wealth literally over the course of months, and everybody around us saw the changes.  And then for almost two years, the money kept flowing in.  We openly attributed everything to Hashem and openly thanked Hashem for everything.

What I think we missed was what my grandmother was always SO CAREFUL about.  Ayin Hara.  Be careful about how you express yourself and your berachas to others, especially those less fortunate than you.  Be careful because unintentionally, one "evil glance," even an unintentional one can cause such a prosecution from above that you can lose everything.  They say that 99 out of 100 people die from an Ayin Hara (or something like that).

Anyway, I think now we need to do some soul searching.  We have already resolved to keep our finances private, even from family.  Publicly, if and when things turn around for our firm, we will keep it quiet.  Success is not something to be touted or screamed from the rooftops because nobody wants to hear how successful you are, or how great you are at some topic.  Rather, keep your mouth shut, keep your head down, and thank G-d for everything you have.

Monday, December 10, 2012

I live the life of a regular father. B'H.

I'm guessing that since I just wrote that dismal post about work, I figured I would share how I am doing at home.

In short, my relationship with my wife and my kids is very good.  My wife and I have been trying very hard to implement the tools we have learned from the therapist, and I apologize up front for not keeping up with the teachings.

Essentially, the main thing that we have learned is that every reaction from your partner deserves to be taken seriously, even when they are illogical, when they make no sense or are blown out of proportion, or even when the accusations, anger, frustration falsely accuse you of saying, doing, or thinking something you didn't, and even when your partner is flat out wrong and out of line.  No matter what the circumstances, if they are angry or edgy, deal with it and accept them for who they are.  This obviously goes both ways because quite frankly, if I were the woman here, I wouldn't deal with the piece of sh*t I am with all my flaws.

Anyway, I find that often our fights have turned into something like this:

ME: "I'm upset about so-and-so topic."
HER: "You're wrong.  It happened this way."
ME: "I don't care if I am making this up entirely! I am feeling this way bottom line, and you are supposed to accept it as being true because you are supposed to validate my feelings and I am feeling vulnerable and I need your support."
HER: "Well you have just triggered me too, so our conversation is over."
ME: "Okay, sorry for getting you upset.  We'll continue this fight later, but I'm still angry about it."

I find that many of our fights are just the result of moments of vulnerabilities where one or both of us are overwhelmed, tired, sad, or angry about something, and the other one of us is not there emotionally to help the other.  No matter what we fight about, usually after the initial anger or hurt passes, the feelings pass as well and it becomes very easy to talk about it once the emotion associated with the event has passed.

Anyway, as far as our kids go, all is okay as well.  My wife and I are good parents, and we pride ourselves on the hard work we do for our childrens' benefit.  Obviously we could certainly be better at almost every facet of our parenting skills, but notwithstanding our broken pasts (mine from abandonment and abuse, and my wife's from emotional neglect), we do pretty darn good.

As far as religion goes, we're also pretty good.  The focus of many of our conversations is halacha (Jewish Law), and how it relates to a particular situation we are dealing with.  I am strong in my Torah learning (I could be so much better, but objectively I am strong), and I have a good head on my shoulders.  I study gemara (Talmud) every day according to the Daf Yomi schedule, and I enjoy learning every day.

In the evenings, I sit down in front of the computer and I either watch some show online or play a video game.  I know this is a complete waste of time and brain power, but I enjoy it and so does my wife.  We obviously spend a considerable amount of time talking before the nightly Netflix, and so the night is my favorite time of the day.

Exercise has been horrible for me.  I can't get myself out of bed (I actually wake up between 5am-6am every day), and when I do force myself to fling myself out of bed, I fight with myself whether I should go to minyan, learn some Gemara, or go to the gym.  Having a coffee and learning some Gemara usually wins out, except when I make the mistake and check my work e-mail.  Then my day is destroyed because that's all I do.

I work hard out of the home in my office (I used to work in the home and it annoyed my wife), and I come home between 6pm-7pm every day.  I play with the kids, eat something, and then put them to bed.

This is pretty much my life.  I live the life of a regular father.  B'H.

My heart is not into it this time around.

It has been many months since my last post, and no surprise.  I write when things get tough, and then when things get better, there is not much to talk about.

I had to let my employees go from the law firm.  It was sad, but it was many months in the coming.  I was working on a very narrow set of cases knowing that once we won, our firm's income would be cut to zero.  I saw the signs of success for my clients a few months ago, but it wasn't until recently that the cases were coming to an end.  

Now there is a bit of tying up to do, but we've been on a negative cashflow since July, but the hope was that by the time the firm ran out of money, we would have found a new stream of income.  The problem was that I was spending all my time working on the cases because our clients paid us up front knowing that it would be many months before the case would be over, and I wasn't exactly in the mood to nickel-and-dime my clients to death like most lawyers who charge by the hour do.  Plus, we were contractually bound for me to represent them for this set fee until their matter was complete, so we've essentially been running on fumes (everything took much longer than I expected it to), time has run out, and our firm is out of cash.

So it is only me again here in the firm.  It's so lonely, and my motivation has dropped to zero.  It is so disheartening to know that my "wave" is over, and to catch the next one will take months, maybe years of work.  I am having such a difficult time calling current clients about new matters and following up with new inquiries, not because I don't have the time, but because I don't have the emotional energy or strength to stand up and start again.  I'm burned out from the marathon our firm just ran these last few years, and I can't stomach starting again...but that is where we are.

I started the firm having six months of basic expenses to keep the family running, and I hit the ground running with enthusiasm.  It was my dream to own my own firm and to work for myself.  Now two years later, I still have six months of salary, but we are no longer on scholarships from the school, the school loans are no longer on deferment, taxes are through the roof from all the legal fees the firm made earlier in the year, and we now have FOUR children in yeshiva, and we are paying full tuition for each child.  Our baseline of expenses is so large now, I break into sweats every time I think of the "minimum" amount of money I will need to pull in each week/each month just to keep afloat.

So with all this, I'm paralyzed emotionally -- I cannot work, and I cannot move.  Even though we succeeded in what we accomplished to do knowing that it will kill our business if we succeeded, our business died as a result of our clients' success, and now it is back to the drawing board for our firm.  It's not completely over, but no new clients are coming in because they are "standing on the shoulders" of the work we did for our older clients.  We purposefully killed the market which fed our families because it was the right thing to do.  I just can't pick up a pen now without wanting to cry, so I distract myself just so I can get the day to pass so I can go home, put the kids to bed, and then go to bed myself only to participate in this cycle again tomorrow (until I gather the strength to stand up and start again).

To add to this -- my wife is compassionate for my circumstances, but I don't think she really understands the huge amount of stress I am feeling from our firm running out of steam.  I think she wonders why can't I just stand up and do this again.  Why can't I just hit the ground running once more?  Why can't I find a new niche and run with it, while still looking back and servicing clients who have already paid me from my old niche?

The problem is that my heart is not into it this time.  I've been successful, and it took much more energy to be successful than it does to be poor.  Life is not that much more exciting when you're rolling in the dough, because everything becomes more expensive.  I was pleading with everyone around me to continue living small because this wave of success the law firm was experiencing could not go on forever.  I wanted to save for today, and today is here.  I'm jaded that we are back where we started, and now I am older, and I have more expenses, and my family has become accustomed to living bigger.  Now it hurts to tighten our belts, and with a maid that comes to clean almost every day, expensive health insurance which just keeps getting more expensive, and everybody always wanting more money, it's a spiral and I don't know how to get out from underneath it.

How do I justify telling my wife that she can no longer have the maid, and that we need to drop our health insurance and stop buying as much food just to survive?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Software solutions for privacy, specifically regarding hiding your IP address.


I am writing this tech-oriented article to address the issue of privacy, especially in blogs such as this one.  Hiding your IP address is probably one of the most important steps an internet users can take to properly protect him or herself on the web.

As most of you know, one of my hobbies is network security.  For that reason, I have been researching various ways to prevent an ISP or a target website from knowing which IP address one is coming from.

Recently, OpenDNS has come up with a product which encrypts your DNS address lookups over the web.  This is an exciting innovation in website security, but quite frankly, it does not do the job of stopping a predatory website from snatching your IP address from the web and compiling it with a list of other IP addresses to be used in some kind of piracy lawsuit.  I've seen them very frequently recently, and it's scary.

As a result, I have often suggested the use of VPN services to protect one's privacy when browsing.  There are many types of VPN services, many free, the better ones are "paid" services.  The problem with those services is that they tunnel ALL of your traffic through their servers.  While this makes you anonymous, it still takes a serious toll on your speed.  Plus, if you are paying to surf the web anonymously and you are viewing video streams or doing any kind of bandwidth intense activitities, forget about it.  You'll blow through your account in no time (and it will cost you a lot of money).

Come a piece of software called "Hide IP Easy."  (Website Link: http://www.easy-hideip.com) Hide IP Easy changes your IP address so that the websites (and services) that your computer is connecting to thinks that someone else is connecting to them.  Now there are obviously legal issues with spoofing ("hiding") your IP address, but for those who want to attempt to protect their privacy, this might be an answer.

I've tested the software on Steve Gibson's GRC ShildsUP! website (http://www.grc.com), and it does work to mask the IP address.  The problem is that your REAL IP ADDRESS STILL SHOWS UP (under the "X-FORWARDED-FOR" field).  It continues to state how the address was changed (in my case, via something called 1.1 dg1t (squid/3.2.0.19).  In my opinion this is a security weakness that needs to be addresses by the "Hide IP Easy" software developers, but for the time being, it seems to be a good solution.

I will continue to analyze the various ways of protecting one's privacy over the internet in coming posts.