Sunday, February 07, 2016

I've had it with this upside-down work schedule. I simply cannot work the overnight shift or eventually it will kill me.

So I don't know how to phrase this, but we and the kids just got over a stomach flu which circulated from one kid to the next, then to me, then to another kid, and now to my wife.  This happened on our one-year anniversary from making Aliyah celebration, where we went to a hotel which cost us roughly $350USD even though it was off season.  Can you believe hotels are so expensive here?!?

Anyway, in my wife's illness from the stomach flu, she started sharing with me how home sick she was.  She talked about how easy it was in Denver (even when we were living in California), how easy life was.  We had one school where all the kids went to, the school was great, the kids had friends, and ...we had AMAZON PRIME!  Oh Amazon Prime how I miss you from Betar Israel!

While she was merely sharing her feelings of being homesick these past few months, as soon as she did, I myself felt an outpouring of homesickness of the way life used to be in the US.  I woke up in the morning, had breakfast and a coffee, prepared the kids' lunches, saw them off to school, then I went to work in my giant office space where I would work like a normal human being during normal business hours.  I would sometimes call my wife and we would go out to lunch together, or I would stop at home and pick something up, and then go back to work.

At 7pm, I would come home, I would put the kids to bed, say shema, sit down and exchange a few words with my wife over tea, and then we would either watch a show together, or I would play video games into the night.  Whatever the recreation, it was also a way to "de-fuzz" from the tough day at work.  This allowed me to go to sleep at midnight (or sometimes at 1am), and I would wake up refreshed and ready to start my day all over again.

Here in Israel, my schedule is ass backwards.  I wake up at 11am after having been awake until 4am, and I wake up feeling like a zombie.  I stumble out from my office couch (because I rarely sleep in my own bed because the noise in the morning wakes me up), and I greet my wife who is already five hours into her day.  She has already woken up with the kids, gotten them fed, dressed, made lunch, sent them off to school, and then by the time I am waking up, she is either cleaning up the house or relaxing on Facebook.  I fight the inclination to feel like a lazy loser for waking up so late, so I drag myself as if hung over to the kitchen to make myself some coffee.

I come downstairs and I try to have a conversation with my wife (which is where the daily mini-fight comes from, because she is simply not interested in talking and I am intruding on what she calls her "private time").  This is the conversation which often ends up with a "no, you're wrong, it is not like that, it is like this," leading to some huffy puffy hurt feelings, followed by a quiet walk of shame back up to my office to waste away the next few hours.

In Israel, I don't start work until 4pm which is 6am CST when most of my US clients for the law firm wake up.  During these next few hours, while I try to make good use of my time, more often than not, I end up reading about the terrible politicians in the US and what big "O" has done this time, I watch a televised presidential debate on YouTube, or if I am productive, I will listen to a few classes online.  Either way, I burn myself out because there is nothing to do except fry my brain (an activity that should be happening AFTER my work day, not before it).  Then the kids come home, I play with them some until I get overwhelmed, and then 4pm comes along and I need to get to my meetings.  I take a few calls, sit in on a few meetings, and I work my client's cases.  Around 6pm, I get called down for dinner (or sometimes to cook dinner), and I am downstairs until 7pm when it is bedtime.

Then at 7pm after saying shema with the kids and fighting with them to get to bed, I get back to work.  Well, sometimes it is that I only then get to work.  The problem is that by this time, I am WIPED OUT and I really don't want to start my work day, because I am already exhausted from the day I just finished, especially if my wife had me running errands during the day (while I myself agree to do so because otherwise I will be clawing at the walls from cabin fever), or if we went out for a late breakfast together in some cute kosher restaurant on some kibbutz or in Jerusalem.

So I force a few cups of coffee down my throat to get caffeinated, I get on the phone, I force myself to work, and because I'm so tired, I am not so productive.  Not to mention the fact that because I am in an "office" at home (I am working as of this week on getting an office outside the home), I cannot make noise or argue loudly with the opponent attorneys which messes with my ability to work effectively.  Then around 4am, I finish off my day, and crash in bed from a really really unbearably long day.  Oh, and sometimes my 4am's end up being at 6am, after my wife's cell phone alarm wakes her up.

So I've pretty much had it with this "upside-down time" lifestyle, and I want out.  I want to go back to the US when I woke up with society, and when I slept with society.  Here, I feel that my work hours will be the death of me within the next ten years, tops.  I give myself five more years of this before I'm dead of a heart attack or just the unhealthy lifestyle of being awake all night every night (and then having to jetlag myself every shabbos so that I can be awake for shul).

But then I go back and forth about the merits of Israel versus the desire to go back.

NOTE: Image taken from Pixbay, CC0 Public Domain, Free for commercial use, No attribution required.  Link.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Not Driven Into Another Woman's Arms

While I would not do anything that would ever endanger our marriage, or the relationship we have (not to say anything about our family and the children), I completely understand how some men are driven towards extramarital affairs.

I work most of the day and most of the nights too now, and I am working from our little apartment in Beitar, Israel.  I still work Colorado hours, so my days begin late, and they end late.  I would say that I am experiencing "cabin fever," as I rarely get the chance to leave the house.  With all this, however, my only daily source of companionship are the guys from my community, and at home, my wife.

I come down to greet my wife late in the morning after the kids are in school.  My work day ended at 3am or 4am Israel time, and so I am waking up just as my wife is getting off of her "morning shift" of dressing the kids and getting them on the bus.  I come down the stairs to say hello, make us a brewed cup of coffee, and hopefully exchange a few meaningful words.

However, being a husband of almost TEN YEARS, she takes much of what I do for granted.  If I bring in a client that pays the bills for two or three months of our living expenses, and that client pays up front, she is not excited about this.  If I close a major case that I am working on, and the firm gets a large pay day, she is similarly not excited.  If I talk to her about the news, she is not excited and doesn't want to hear about it.  If I talk about a hobby that I am interested in, she is not interested in talking about it.  If I speak about something relating to our home, or what someone in the community was speaking about in shul (synagogue), she is not interested.  If I speak to her about something that we have similar interests in, she criticizes every one of my thoughts.

It is hard not to feel invisible or unloved in our family, but I am really feeling unloved.  I've reached out and have tried to make friends -- and I have been successful in doing so -- but this does not fill the deep void and the distance I feel between myself and my wife.

I don't know about you, but I need to feel wanted.  I feel loved when I am appreciated for the hard work that I do.  I feel connected to someone when I can have a coherent conversation with them -- about anything!  But each of our conversation devolves into a "you're wrong, you don't know what you're talking about" comment from her, and I politely end the conversation and retire into my own space, and I feel hurt and disconnected from her.  I could speak about the pigeons in Brooklyn, and she'll disagree that they are annoying.  I could speak about how the sky is blue, and she'll disagree that I don't know what I am talking about.  You know, this hurts.

For these reasons, I could totally see how a man could make the mistake of getting seduced by another woman and how an affair could happen.  Meet a woman in the bagel shop, and she laughs at your offhand joke, she finds you to be incredibly smart and sensitive, she finds you physically attractive, and any level-headed man could say, "Hey, I imagine that life could be better with this person.  My wife doesn't love me, doesn't respect me, doesn't care about me anyway.  How much could it hurt to start up a conversation with this woman who seems to be interested in me -- I know my boundaries and I would never let it turn into an affair" and then the man would tempt a platonic relationship or a friendship.  One conversation would turn into two, two would turn into attending an event, a movie, a dinner, or a wedding together (while the wife thinks you are "going out with the guys,") and then seclusion or a moment would inevitably occur as luck has it which would catch both off guard with a spark of chemistry or passion which would lead to an accidental touch, a kiss, an embrace, and then an affair which would end up destroying his family and all those around him, and then it would be his fault for doing so.

Anyway, I do have a head on my shoulders, and I am happy that Judaism provides a man with halachas of Yichud (Jewish laws of seclusion with women), and that a religious man knows his limitations, and knows that by spicing up relationships with the opposite sex, and getting into secluded scenarios with women, he, she, or they together might make the drastic mistake of cheating on their spouses with the other, a move which would destroy their lives, the lives of their spouses, and the lives of their children (not to mention their bank accounts after fighting a divorce, not to mention their freedom because all of a sudden they need to stay chained to their family's location, their time because now the father needs to allocate days, weekends, or large blocks of time for "focused attention" with his children, namely, visitation, whereas when he was married, being present generally and spending a few meaningful minutes here or there playing with one or more of his kids, or learning with his kids, sitting at the dinner table, or just sitting with them with a coffee in his hands would have been more than sufficient).  So no, it makes no sense to seek satisfaction in a mate elsewhere.  Even more so, it makes sense to keep conversations with the opposite sex limited to friendly and simple.  Some orthodox Jewish men avoid conversations altogether with women who are not their wives, and while I think this is a bit extreme, they are probably smarter for doing so.

But then what to do about the home life which is lacking meaning?  What to do about the wife who chastises and criticizes, and who neglects to pay attention or give value to her husband?  I don't have an answer to this, and while the answer of "go take steps to form a connection and make the marriage better" *is* the answer, it is easier said than done.

In our relationship, there are good days, and there are bad days.  Unfortunately, more days than not, we are just living our lives, and my wife finds more interesting things than "dealing with me."  I know in my brain that I am important to her, and I know that in her heart she loves me, but in my heart, I very often don't feel love from her.

I sometimes think that it is *me* that is broken -- that I have a proclivity towards feeling inadequate, or being more needy than the average husband would be.  I often wonder whether it is me who is bent towards feeling sadness and being unable to receive love from another.  But I am very, *very* easy to satisfy.  Give me one hug, say one positive comment towards me, compliment me once, and I am flying high for days.

Now let's be real.  I am never "flying high."  You know what I mean.  Compliment me once, or be kind to me, or ask me about my day, and I am happy.  I am very easy to satisfy.  But when many days or weeks go by without a spark or even an attempt to connect, and when my own many attempts are scolded day after day, week after week, it hurts.

NOTE: It just so happens that my wife came over to me just now with a smile and said a few cheerful words.  So while I am content, I am still affected by the conversation earlier today when my feelings were hurt.  So now I'm sad, but I really don't have a reason to be, or do I?  Who knows.

NOTE: Image taken from Pixbay, CC0 Public Domain, Free for commercial use, No attribution required.  Link.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Calmer seas... Marriage-level fight averted, but do we want more children?!?

It is not much fun to blog when things are going well, but for those of you who were concerned that the shalom bayis between my wife and myself was shattered, fear not -- we talked it out.  Well, we fought it out peacefully.

Her issue with me is simply that my best effort is not good enough for her to satisfy her need for me to support her emotionally and otherwise after she gives birth.  I do work really hard and she acknowledged that she knows that I try really hard to help her after she gives birth, but time and time again, I have failed her by becoming overwhelmed myself by the extra burden which I am unable to handle.

That is a sad reality, but for some reason, she gained a new understanding from our "fight," namely, that I know my best isn't good enough and I feel terrible about it.  I guess she didn't understand before this fight that I really do care and am troubled by my failings with the past births of our other children (each one having a different story where I somehow dropped the ball because I got overwhelmed by the circumstances).  However, I am not punishing myself about it nor am I denying that I get overwhelmed easily when taking over household responsibilities which deals with handling, bathing, feeding, or playing with kids.  As much as I absolutely LOVE my children, I simply have a lower tolerance for stress than she would like me to have, and so I get overwhelmed easily.

I don't know if this is because I am coming from a broken family where there was trauma and a divorce, or whether I am simply the type of guy that shouldn't have children.  Who knows, it is too late to breach that topic after already having created and raised a large and amazing family.  Plus, I am happy with the meaningful life decisions I have made, and I am grateful to my wife for picking up the slack where I lacked, and for allowing me to have such a family.

Whatever the cause of my inadequacies, I am still a proud father, a good husband, and I work my butt off trying to be the best I can be, even to the point of pushing myself into overwhelm, and then continuing in the state of overwhelm for as long as I can tolerate the uncomfortable feelings before I shut down and must step away from the fun experience of parenting (usually to retreat into my office or some dark place metaphorically where I can "de-fuzz").  I am also very helpful, to the best of my abilities.  Obviously my wife would chuckle at the "to the best of my abilities" part, but as she says, "[T]here are many things that you are really good at, and there are some things that you are absolutely terrible at.  Handling stress with children playing, being wild, crying, or screaming is not your strong point."

Anyway, in hindsight she says it is because of my inability to do what she needs me to do that she is unwilling to have more children, and she is saddened by this and she blames me for this reality in our life.  While I am hurt by such a hurtful statement, I am not denying that she is wrong for feeling sad; I am also sad for us because I feel as if she is jumping to a false conclusion.

Where I differ with her on this topic is that I believe that if we were to have more children, for the week or so after my wife gives birth, I would once again do everything in my power to be there for her, to take over her responsibilities in the home, and to go FAR outside my comfort zone to take over both her responsibilities and maintain my own (or simply to shut down and/or minimize work with the law firm for a few weeks), and she'll just deal with my shortcomings as they likely will show up yet again.  But then this time will pass, she will get angry at me again, we'll have another major set of marital-level fights, and things will once again go back to normal.  I am okay with this, but she is not okay with this, and I don't necessarily disagree with her because our current lifestyle of me ending work at 6am when she wakes up does not lend itself to growing our family further than we already have.

I don't think the issue is that we don't want children, because in theory, I *too* want a large family (I actually think that we already have a large family, and I am happy with the children we have been given thus far).  I also don't think the main issue is that I wouldn't be there for her immediately after the birth.  Being realistic, I think the real issue is that I don't think it is healthy to add more family members to an already stressed situation where I am simply not home or around each morning and afternoon to help my wife with the kids, and I don't think that my wife should have the burden of raising the kids, cooking, cleaning, and doing homework all on her own.  And, this is not a "get a maid" issue -- my wife is well aware that I encourage and even would support her getting as much help as she needs to manage our large family.  The reality is that I do run a busy U.S. law firm alone now crazy hours (because I am running it from Israel), and I am not a regular father than leaves at 8am and comes home at 5pm to relax with the kids, do homework, eat dinner, and put them to bed. Yes, I do help with the household chores, and I do dishes, wash and fold laundry, I put the kids to bed, I love them, and I handle all the family's financial matters, but between myself and G-d, I am not present enough for my kids in the mornings before school and the afternoons after school to support them in their Torah learning, nor am I there to provide them help with their homework, and I don't feel present as a father to be able to say to my wife, "yeah, everything is great!  Let's add to our family since we already have everything so well under control." For this reason, namely, that I cannot support my wife with the daily tasks of running the family and raising the kids, I don't think we should be adding more children to the mix of our already active family.

We *are* both overwhelmed and stressed with the new move to Israel, and growing our already large family further is not an active goal of ours.  However, we will always welcome a new member to the Strickman family with open arms whenever he or she decides to join us, and/or when Hashem blesses us with another child.

...On an unrelated note, as far as shalom bayis is concerned, I *do* need to get an office outside the home, if not so that my wife appreciates and feels that I am actually working every day to make us the money that we are making, then for my own sanity of getting out of the home and feeling like I am accomplishing something in life.  I am very self-critical and I do not compliment myself or my achievements, and so it is very easy for me to get depressed in life feeling like I am a failure, or that I am not accomplishing something in my business life.  Working in my pajamas with the kids yelling outside my door while I am on a conference call is not only unprofessional, it is also destructive to my own confidence and my sanity.  I need to feel like someone who is actually working a business, and although I *am* running a successful law firm from an office in my home in the middle of Israel, I don't feel the "official'ness" of my law practice where I eat, sleep, play, and say Shema with the kids in the same place where I run my grueling law practice with its long hours, its stresses, and its harsh mental requirements.

NOTE: Image taken from Pixbay, CC0 Public Domain, Free for commercial use, No attribution required.  Link.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Disparity in work responsibilities - Living in Israel, Working in the US.

Okay, so only four views on the last article, probably all were me reading my own blog.  I logged in this morning looking for some kind of feedback about the marital issues, as they are my life, and without a marriage, the life I have built for myself crumbles.

I woke up this afternoon upset.  Why?  Because yesterday, my wife stormed into my office upstairs in a rage accusing me of being a bad father and not supporting her during our last child's birth.  Mind you, if I did anything that she claimed I did, it was in April of 2014 (almost two years ago!).  When she stormed in, not remembering ANYTHING about what I allegedly did or did not do, I smiled, supported her, agreed that what I must have done was terrible, and moved on.  But then it didn't stop.

Later that night, she continued on about how angry she was at me, and how I was not supportive, and how she cannot have any more children with me because she knows that it would be the same here too in Israel, and that I would be just as unsupportive.  Again, now slightly annoyed that she's harping on something that I really didn't think happened, I continued to be nice without arguing with her.

Then later in the evening when I gave her a kiss on the head, she shrugged.  Now this was late in the evening, and she was still angry with me?!?

Okay, at this point, I got mad...

I concede with full apology that literally a day or so after our second daughter was born (child #3), that I left for a week to study for the bar exam.  This needed to happen, and I passed the bar exam, and from this effort alone, I supported our family for many years (and I would not have passed without doing this).  However, because her parents were unwilling to assist my wife, she had to take care of three children on her own, for which she never forgave me.  But then, totally sensitized to her need for support, on child #4, and on child #5, I was certainly there, taking on extra duties and going to the extreme to support her in her recovery.
 Then I remembered the circumstances surrounding this last child.  She just had the baby, and Passover was right around the corner.  We discussed and agreed that we would NOT be hosting her family as we had done in past years, and that we would be going "out" to the communal Passover seders provided at the shul.  That way, she wouldn't have to go through all the terrible burdens women go through when preparing for the seders, and we could "take it easy" and let her recover.
But then she went against our decision and invited her entire family over.  She thought she could deal with it, and I warned her many times that it was a bad idea and that she should cancel.  As a result of her decision, I don't remember the details, but I do remember going nuts trying to take care of everything to assist her while at the same time, working the law firm, she stressed herself out and it ended up being a very negative experience.  As usual, nobody in her family helped her with the seder (I don't remember if we even flew my mom in to help, but I think we did, but she did not stay for the seder because she had to get back home), and the seder was a very negative experience because yet again, everything fell on my wife's shoulders.

So last night after communicating to her my dissent to her accusation that "I even made her drive the kids to school and bathe the kids when she got back from the hospital," I thought to myself, "yeah, this was one of the things she did as part of her responsibilities."
I remembered now our fight about asking her to bathe the kids when she got back -- it was a few days of absolute exhausting hell running around all day and night back and forth from home (taking care of the four kids) to the hospital (bringing her kosher breakfast and meals) to let her recover (then running home, picking up kids, spending the day with them, putting them to bed, also running the law firm, then running to pick up and drop off dinner with my wife at the hospital, staying with my wife until midnight), etc., etc.  It was an exhausting marathon.
Finally when I brought her and the new baby home from the hospital, she was totally normal and rested, walking around and talking as if she were fully back on her feet.  I, on the other hand, was ready to collapse from exhaustion.  So I asked her to bathe the kids because this was something that she always did.  Yes, I should have done this too, but I had my limits, and at that moment, I did not understand that this would be a big deal for her.  Apparently, it was a big deal, and I did not hear the end of the insults, calling me "subhuman" among many other hateful names for weeks afterwards.

Okay, I screwed up, but what does it have to do with NOW, almost two years later?  

So she was triggered by something her friend said, and she was upset that if we had kids, she again would have the same problem with me, and that I'm such a piece of shit father that she wouldn't be able to recover in the hospital because I wouldn't be there for her.  I cried inside because that statement really hurt.

This is not the right time to mention it to the blog, but in Israel, my work schedule is 4pm-4am (or, 7am-7pm CST), or more realistically, it is 6pm-6am Israel time because of the time I need to "get to work," and because I take off Fridays and Sundays altogether, so I only work four days each week.  Us needing to do this (running the U.S. law firm from Israel) was a CONDITION that we discussed at length before we decided to leave to Israel.  As a result, I wake up most mornings between 11:30am - 12:30pm.  I have coffee, I sit down to say hello to my wife, and then I "hang around the home" sometimes with the kids, sometimes in my office until it is time to get to work again.  This is a killer schedule for me, especially because I find myself to be a slave to my home since I work in our apartment (yes, I am looking for a place to work outside the home), and because my work day only starts after I am totally exhausted and wiped out from a few hours of activities with the kids running and screaming.  It is also a punishing schedule for my body, because I force it to stay awake when it wants to sleep at night.  So when its bedtime for the kids (~7pm'ish), my real work day begins.  In short, with this lifestyle, I feel like a zombie most of the time.

So she's right -- if we have another child, it will be very difficult for me to support her because yet again, I will need to alter my SLEEP habits (as I do over and over, and this takes a large toll on my health), [and it would be a difficult few WEEKS, not days, since my wife is insisting next time on going to a "new baby hotel" that she says women apparently go to in order to recover while the men take over all housework and continue their jobs (a feminist, anti-male, and sexist idea which I think is horrific because it negates all the work we men already do even when they come home after a day or so from being in the hospital giving birth)].

But that brings me to the greater point that if she is feeling this way and bringing up these old arguments and accusations, then we cannot stay in Israel.  Back in the U.S., I had the ability to take over my wife's responsibilities if needed, and to maneuver around town to pick up food, arrange for things to happen, and handle anything that came our way.  Now in Israel, I do not speak the language, and I do not know my way around town.  But even more relevant, I am sensing that she does not see or appreciate the work that I do, and this is a problem.  Why?  Because it seems to me as if she gets into the habit of thinking that because Hashem provides the parnossa for our family, I am just a vessel that receives the blessings (and thus she negates ALL THE OVERNIGHT HOURS EVERY NIGHT AND THE HARD WORK that I do to earn the income we make).

She simply doesn't see me working, and all she sees is me waking up late (after she has made lunches for the kids, woken up early, gotten them breakfast, dressed, and then off to school), then she sees hanging around doing nothing during the day (after she just cleaned for an hour or so), and then she sees me isolating myself in my office when her day gets hard (just when the kids come home from school and the tough part of her day begins)

And, because she does not see, she does not comprehend the harsh circumstances of staying up ALL NIGHT EVERY NIGHT trying to focus and run the law practice (while she watches videos at night, relaxes after a hard day's work, and sleeps a full night's rest).  No fair, this is not okay.

Now if we were working together as I thought we were, meaning, she understands that we are both sacrificing to make this work, then yes, living in Israel can continue.  But if she starts the "you're selfish, I do everything" game again, totally negating all the months of work and sacrifice I have done thus far (and that I continue to do each night), no, I cannot handle this, and we'll have to leave.  And if we left, I cannot promise that I wouldn't blame her for not making our Aliyah to Israel work.  I do feel that if we left, our shalom bayis would suffer from such a blow that I am not sure we could ever fully recover.

NOTE: Image taken from Pixbay, CC0 Public Domain, Free for commercial use, No attribution required.  Link.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Left vs. Right - When a Marriage Fails Because the Partners' Ideologies Do Not Match.

At what point is a marriage dead...?  When the two partners are no longer emotionally connected?  When they are no longer partners with a common interest?  When?!?

I have always hated talking about myself for the sole reason that I will be prejudiced financially, physically, or even jailed for some crime for a thought that someone found to be offensive.  Let's just put it this way -- I live in fear that someone will take away my life because I don't buy into the rosy-colored utopian left-leaning progressive viewpoint some people have about life.

I don't think that life is all about peace and love.  I think that life is about war and conflict.  I look around each day wondering who is suspicious, who I should be careful of who may abduct my children, what nooks and crannies in a wall can injure my children who may play in that area, and who could commit a crime and how do I protect myself and my family against that injury.

I fear that people might think that I'm a kook for worrying about things before they happen, but I am a very safe person.  I don't get into accidents because I anticipate when someone will swerve into my lane, or when someone is acting strange.  I avoid getting into conflicts, and I live a very calm life.  I have good relationships with most people around me, and I'd say that I live in peace.

However, I don't have peace.  My shalom bayis is existent, but at what cost of deadening the relationship between me and my wife?  I thought we were doing well these past few years, but I'm realizing that we have not been doing well.

If a topic of discussion is not a topic my wife is interested in, she is not interested in listening to it.  "I don't want to hear about it," she'll say.  That was fine at the beginning of our relationship when there were so many topics that I was fascinated by, and so over the years, I would move from topic to topic until she'll shut it down because she is not interested in hearing about it or talking about it, so I would move onto the next topic and so on.

In the beginning of our marriage, I was very much into homeopathic medicine, brain entrainment (holosync, hemisync, yoga, ayurveda, meditation).  Then when she wasn't interested in that, I started talking about alternative medicines, health, and wellness.  That was shut down.  Then after a while, we started to see a marriage therapist because we had so many walls between us that it wasn't that I had nothing to say to her -- I simply ran out of things to speak about that she wanted to hear.

To bring you up to speed on my life, we made aliyah last year not because we were anticipating the redemption of Moshiach and the returning of the Jewish people from the Jewish exile of the Roman Empire, but rather, because I did not feel that the environment in the United States was heading in a direction that would be safe for my children's well being.  I was concerned that the US was turning into a militaristic dictatorship (not one that will shoot its citizens, but one that will jail and financially deprive, sue, and confisgate the savings of its citizens who do not go along with the progressive liberal viewpoints of those in power).  I felt that we were going away from the principles of liberty and freedom upon which the country was built.  Not only that, but in the neighborhood we were living in and the events of Ferguson, Missouri, and then the events of Baltimore and the black war against the cops and the threats of war and Islamic terrorist against the US, I was concerned that the infrastructure of what kept us safe was threatened.  Since those in power were not taking steps to make the problem go away, I came to the conclusion that things are only getting worse, and so we decided to leave.  We moved to Israel 1) because my wife is a zionist and believes in the building of the Jewish state, and 2) because I am a Jew, and even though the Israeli government is also a socialist state (some call it a police state), at least here I am not seen as the enemy for my viewpoints.

Obviously there were other reasons for coming to Israel -- we were looking for a place where our children could have a good education, many friends, and a community of people who were like-minded.  But really, with the drug dealers living across the street from us, and the looting that was happening across the US at the time (and a government who was supporting the looters rather than the store owners), I thought we were getting to the point where I would need to get a gun license, learn how to fire a gun and become one of those survivalist kooks who store food and water in an underground vault (really, it would have just been under our stairs in the closet), or move.  I even went to Costco and purchased a 55 liter water jug just in case the water went out [since we did not live near a source of clean water].  Buying a generator, security cameras, a shotgun, a pistol, a safe to store the pistol safely, and a generator was next on my list before we left.

But getting back to the topic of this article -- a connection between a husband and a wife -- it is becoming very clear to me that I married a bleeding-heart liberal who doesn't see the world the way I see it.  She doesn't see war and conflict, but rather, love and peace.  Now obviously there is a medium of simply being both optimistic and realistic, but what is really tugging at my heart is -- how can a marriage survive when the husband and the wife do not share common views of the world?  How can a marriage survive when one partner shows no interest in the topics of interest and passions of the other partner, and in fact, she goes so far as to scorn the ideals that are meaningful to me and call those who adhere to the belief systems I believe in as rubbish, garbage, and kookery?

So I am once again faced with a decision -- for the sake of shalom bayis, to give in to her demands and no longer speak about yet another set of topics which she does not find to be interesting and to dead-en our relationship even further.  Yet one more "wall" will now go up between us, and I will retreat further and further into my own world, and my connection to her will yet diminish even further.

However, I already thought it was deadened and diminished as things were.  I have found topics to speak about with her that interest her -- kids, school, family, social interactions -- but what about our relationship with each other?  How does a marriage continue when one partner makes absolutely no effort to know or understand the other partner?  And how do I stand in her presence when all I feel around her is a rejection of those ideals I believe strongly in?  I chuckle at saying this, but I really don't think she knows who I am.

I guess the only answer is to find topics to talk to her about which she enjoys, and to find interests that we share in common, and focus on those.  As far as the end of the marriage, not to worry about the differences between us, and not to compromise or stop being the right-leaning conservative political activist that I am in my heart.  I'll continue to be interested in the things that I am interested in, and as we get older and older (I am now almost in my 40's believe it or not) and as our children continue to grow, by the time they are grown up and move out to live lives of their own, we'll see if there is anything left holding us together.  Hopefully the amazing daily effort, hardship, and difficulty in raising a family together will be enough "glue" to keep us together even if our interests, values, or viewpoints of the world differ.  And as for a "passion" or a deep connection with my wife, well, that has never been the case, nor will it ever be the case.  She's my partner in life, not my partner in crime.

My rabbi used to tell me, "Your wife is not your chevrusa.  Don't try to make her one."  I suppose that also means, don't try to co-opt your wife into being your best friend to share all of your interests and visions.  If she is your best friend, great, but if she is not, don't worry about it.  Remember, the Jewish purpose of a marriage is to be married, not to extract all the good-feeling benefits and goodies that come from being married.  Being married in and of itself is an outcome that is seen as merit from the Jewish faith.  If your wife is not your "partner in crime," have relationships outside of the home with others [of your own sex] with whom you can connect with and draw support from, and with whom you can talk to if times are tough between you and your wife.  Be part of a group, a community, even an online Facebook group of like-minded folks, if necessary.  But remember, your wife is not the end-all-be-all-treatment for all of your emotional and psychological ills, wills, and motivations.

NOTE: Image taken from Pixbay, CC0 Public Domain, Free for commercial use, No attribution required.  Link.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My possible new understanding behind my "overwhelm" experiences.

I have been going through some kind of internal turmoil these past few weeks.  It all started with a therapy session revelation that when I get "overwhelmed" when playing with the kids or while enjoying an intimate conversation with my wife, that feeling of overwhelm is a fear that pops up in my mind machine telling me that I am about to get attacked by my dad.  Weird, huh?  I'll explain.

When interacting with the kids and playing with them (e.g., I was swimming in our pool and being a whale while the kids rode on my back cackling and experiencing lots of joy), instead of experiencing what psychologists call an "endorphin" good-feeling experience, I get overwhelmed and I "shut down."  I get a headache, and I experience a pain surrounding my head like a helmet combined with a pain in my heart, and my tolerance for the experience drops through the floor.  I tell myself that I am not thinking straight, I become dizzy and I feel like I want to pass out.  I experience a horrible feeling in my chest (as if I was being starved; as if I have not eaten in days), and I feel nauseous.  I really at that point want the experience to end, so I retreat to a "safe" place without all of the overstimulation.  Since I was in the pool at this particular moment, I politely told the kids to go out of the pool for a few minutes while I breathed and let the feeling sensations pass.

I don't actually go "Jeckyll and Hyde."  Rather, I notice that I am not feeling well, and so (if needed), I end whatever experience is happening so that I can crawl into my own shell and recover.  This is why I love my office so much -- after the morning stress of making lunches and dealing with whatever mess was conjured up in my home between, say, 6am and 7am, after the kids get to school, my office is a good place to sit down and "de-fuzz" (and maybe have a good cry ;p ) before my workday begins.

I was discussing this experience with a therapist I am seeing, and he was leading me through some kind of visualization to determine the cause of the overwhelm.  In the visualization, while reviewing the "tatty is a big whale in the pool" experience, I noticed and mentioned that "this sounds out of place -- I'm feeling a dull feeling of fear that my dad is about to scream and attack me."  "That's it!" the therapist chimed.

He explained that often messed up feelings do not have anything to do with the experience in which they manifest themselves.  My fear of getting attacked by my dad -- who is now many hundreds of miles away from us, and who is now an older man no longer in an authority role where he can yell, scream, or burden us with his explosive temper tantrums -- was not logically related at all to me feeling happiness in spending time with the kids.  "It's not logical!" I explained to the therapist, whereas he responded, "specters such as these are not supposed to be logical."

In other words, the therapist believes that somewhere up in my mind machine, it has linked together the concept of "what-would-be-endorphin-producing-pleasurable-experiences" and this "pain."  I imagine a loving child wanting to climb on his daddy, and his daddy explodes out of anger for whatever his reason, only to leave that child cowering in a corner wondering what he did to elicit such an explosive anger reaction when he only wanted to play with his daddy.  In other words, I was probably spooked a few times (or at a minimum, ONE traumatic experience) which caused my mind machine to overwrite the "pleasure" signal with "fear" or "pain."  Thus, when the pleasure signal is triggered, I feel the sensation of pain.

"What a sucky experience that must be," I thought.  I have resorted to paying attention to the feelings, and breathing through the overwhelm when I sense it, all the while reading books on the topic and doing work on myself to hopefully fix this "problem" I appear to be experiencing.  But, so far, no dice.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Morpheus tells Neo, "Don't think you are. Know you are."

I was just sitting at my desk when it hit me about how actors feel when they act, and how that relates to me in my body.  In my previous e-mail, I posted an article I wrote in 2004 entitled, "who is the I," a crude self-analysis of trying to figure out what part of my experience is "me."

I don't know if I was channelling Descartes, or any of the other philosophers I have read over the years, or whether I was at the time simply hashing out a Chassidic discourse or "maimer" I was working on at the time.  However, just now, I got a flash of something.

Actors stand in the role of another person, the better the actor, the more believable the character in the play or the movie.  I often said that there are a number of actors who are the same person in every movie NOT because they choose to only play certain characters, but BECAUSE THEY CAN'T GET THEIR REAL SELVES OUT OF THE WAY WHEN ACTING AS THE CHARACTER.

I remember in college, I took a number of acting classes.  And, I needed to stand in front of the crowd and become someone else.  At the time, I was too nervous and self-whatever it is called to get out of my own shell and be the character.  However, my instructor told me to "take off my shirt," which made me extra nervous because there were girls in that class that I liked very much, but I was too timid to approach or befriend.  When I took off my shirt which reflected the "persona," "style," or "character" of the personality I was trying to wear, so to speak, the professor smiled after a few seconds and said, "Ah, there you are."  The other students saw it also.

The focus on what I am trying to convey is that there are all these layers of "stuff" we carry with us which prevent us from being who we really are.  Perhaps we were hurt as a child.  Perhaps we have had our hearts broken.  Perhaps we are unable to support our families.  While each of these are reasons to justify the feeling of sadness being there, the act of judging those experiences as "bad" and choosing to "kuch" or to swim in those feelings is not justified.  You are not your creator, and you are not the one who created the world.  As such, you are not the person who created the people who hurt you, and you are not the person who caused them to hurt you.  Quite frankly, I would even venture to say that you are not the "I" in this "movie" who was hurt, and nor do you have the right to choose to be sad about what happened to your character.  Doing so is like saying, "G-d, I know better than you, and I'm smarter than you.  You made a mistake.  It should have played out like THIS."

Rather, you have a duty to be who you are, to be authentic, and not to drag the past, the future, or to assume the role of some movie character, Superman, or persona that you would like to emulate into your daily life.  All of us would like to be the best we are.  Your job as the actor, or the force wearing your character as a puppet is to step into the body of your character, and be that character.  Don't try to be yourself being that character, and don't try to change or improve who the character is.  Rather, play out that character's story as he was put on this planet.  This obviously requires a bit of creativity to do this, so think, do, say, and act in ways which will make the character the best he or she is.  Or, if you are sadistic, fuck up your characters life and see where that goes.  In other words, stop trying to judge your character, JUST ACT AND BE THAT CHARACTER.  The weird thing is that whether you do good for your character or whether you mess up his or her life by acting in contrary to the way he would act, part of me thinks he's not real and its just YOU out there, so go experience life however you want your character to experience it.  {Personally, I want to have my character follow the rules and be measured in my character's steps because I still don't believe that I am not my character, so I have not yet been able to break free of that fear of doing so.  I also -- for love of my character -- want that character to have the best life possible, and I want him and his family to thrive both physically, spiritually, and emotionally.  So as my character, I will do what I believe are actions which I believe are in his best interests.}

This is so hard to convey, and I am hearing thoughts telling me that I am still not conveying it right.  So attempt #2.

A good actor is the character in whom he is placing his persona.  A good actor assumes the person who is the subject of his acting.  So instead of thinking you are that character, BE THAT CHARACTER.

This almost reminds me of the Matrix movie where Morpheus tells Neo while they are fighting (and I am obviously butchering the words), "...Stop TRYING to hit me and HIT ME! You are faster than this.  Don't think you are; KNOW YOU ARE."  Then right afterwards, just before he jumps across a huge gap between two buildings, he says "don't think you can.  Know you can.  Free your mind."  Neo obviously trys to force himself to think he can do it, and he fell to the floor many stories down and blood spurted from his lips.

In sum, a lesson to myself and to you -- stop trying to be who you are, and BE WHO YOU ARE!

"Who is the I," a book introduction that I wrote in 2004.

Below is an article that I wrote LITERALLY TEN YEARS AGO, in 2004.  At the time, it appears that I was still trying to understand my surroundings, and my role in this reality.
I’ve been trying to figure out my purpose on this Earth.  In college, fed up by the games that people played but nobody knowing the rules, I was swept up into the idealism that that love should be free; that people don’t need structurized environments to feel good about one another.  I saw people acting in the mold of a jap, a jock, a nerd, a geek, a goth-type person, a prep, a heavy-metal listener, among many other sub-genres of people wearing a mold as their mask.  I was annoyed and always asked myself, “why can’t people just be real?”  What is all this shtus (garbage) that people wear?  Why spend so much time being someone else? Why reject another and be mean to them because it is cool to do so? The problem is that people spend so much time emulating others, they never figure out what the truth is inside themselves.
Who are you?  The question probes an inner itch we have to something that is above us, because there is no way to describe specifically who we are; we can only describe what we do or how we act and think.  For example, one can think “I’m a nice guy. I study law. I play piano. I have a CD collection with many new age musicians and countless self-improvement tapes. I am religious. I think of G-d almost all day long. I wonder about the unknown. I connect what I learn to what I see. I want to do well in law school; I want to succeed. I want to get married; to who is a different question. I believe that everything happens for a reason. I believe we are all here for a purpose. I believe there is a world that is not a planet, an existence that is not bodily, action without movement.  I believe everything is connected literally and at every depth and level in a metaphysical web that is beyond our comprehension”.  Yet all these descriptions describe how you act, what you do, and what you want and believe.  It doesn't describe the essence of who you are.
There is a presupposition within each one of the above statements; notice how they all start with the word “I”.  Nature and common sense fools us into thinking that the essence of who we are is the stuff at the end of the sentence – the description that expounds on the word “I”.  Yet when one begins to probe deeper into one’s self, the activities one enjoys are directed by what they believe will give them pleasure.  I, for example, used to love to read countless texts on esoteric studies, self-help books (as if they were cookbooks), and would spend most of my free time listening to speakers such as Anthony Robbins, Deepak Chopra, Richard Bandler, Wayne Dyer, and many more who have touched my life in ways they could never have imagined.  Yet I spent my time that way because I felt it would increase my communication skills and would allow me to function better in the world.  Further, I was looking for mastery over the self – I held the belief that the body in some form was a machine that could be programmed for optimal functionality.  Lastly, I delved into the psyche and the unconscious with the hopes that one day it would lead me to understand the greater Truth.  Maybe I was looking to meet my creator face-to-face.
Each element of the above was further influenced by my belief systems that were implanted into me when I was younger.  My mother was always listening to Tony Robbins tapes in the car.  The first book she bought for me as a gift was a book called “Triggers”, which taught us how to elicit good moods mechanically by associating a feeling with a non-related activity like snapping the fingers.  Like Pavlov’s dogs, my unconscious mind would then, after many repeated trials, associate the feeling to the action.  You could imagine that I was going around all day snapping my fingers.  
Then in high school when the peer pressures began to build up, I was getting frustrated at not being liked by my peers.  I was laughed at for being polite, and mocked for asking my bully to “please stop”.  As a result, my mood leaked into my home life.  As a remedy, my mom told me that the body acts the way the muscles move.  So if I am smiling a huge jolly smile, there is no way to be sad.  I remember for an hour at a time, my mom would make me put on a big grin, despite the teenage rage I was feeling or the hurt I was feeling.  While I would laugh inside at how contradictory my actions were to the feelings inside, I also felt a dissonance that caused a shift in my mood.  This caused my emotions to conform to the weird looking smile on my awkward-looking adolescent face.  This experience developed in me the belief that emotions are influenced by the way we hold our body.  Point being, if I wanted to feel happy, I had to act happy and the feelings would somehow follow.  Now, when I want to feel happy, I give a warm smile (and occasionally snap my fingers).
It is equally plausible that someone could have had the opposite experience.  I could have experienced love and attention from a parent once when I was accidentally affected by a virus that acted up in my body.  As a result, I would have learned that when I manifest an illness by acting sick (and yes, one can make oneself physically ill by thinking oneself ill – this was an accidental learning that got me out and in trouble many times), people would have paid attention to me and would have acted nicer and more loving towards me.  This explains why many people are plagued with psychosomatic illnesses which manifest in their bodies with real symptoms, but the doctors have no idea how to treat them because the person is not really ill.  The point here is that illness often is a learned response.  The goal of acting ill here is not to get the love and attention; it is the feelings of pleasure we derive from the love and attention that drives us to manifest one illness after another.  
However, we see here that our beliefs at some level were adopted by us and integrated into who we are.  Just as one could have developed the belief that being ill brings me pleasure, I developed the belief that smiling brings me pleasure.  The important thing to remember is that these are all beliefs that we adopted – these were decisions we made at some point to lay the path for how we would live our lives.  It is from these beliefs that we decide how to act, or how not to act.  These actions form one’s superficial identity of who they are in this world, based on how they act, think, speak, and feel at any certain moment.  But this identity is not real; it is not a real, tangible thing.  The “I” that we refer to when we say a statement such as “I love you” is a concept, just as love is a description for a group of good feelings with an improperly assumed attribute of permanence (this is a topic for another time). If “I” is based on my actions and my identity, and my identity is based on my belief systems influencing how I think and how I act, and if belief systems are decisions one makes with the intention of gaining pleasure and avoiding pain, then the “I” is mutable, and it changes over time, although there really is no “it”!  
Our personalities evolve and mature as we gain more experiences and make more decisions as to who we are, superficially.  Yet anything that changes logically is not fixed; therefore we cannot say that the “I” in “I love you” is real and ever-lasting, because the next moment, we can change, make a decision, and fall out of love.  But from this do we come to the conclusion that there is no “I”?  I remember the philosophical dorm conversations I had at college -- Am I not here?  No.  The “I” in the sense of the way you act, feel, and think at this very moment was created by the person you were one moment ago.  Who you are is not real, because you change every moment.
Plus, let’s get something straight.  We mistakenly base who we are (the “I”) on our personality.  We determine who we are based on how we feel about certain things.  However, how we feel is based on the beliefs we have about that specific topic.  Our beliefs impact our thoughts, our speech, and our actions, and when we ask who we are, we look to our character traits (which are attributes -- titles -- which we attribute to ourselves; we form these opinions about ourselves looking to the actions we take on a daily basis) and our personality (also a title for the conglomeration of our belief systems and our daily thoughts).  Yet these change as we change.  Hence, other than perhaps trying to identify aspects of us that don’t change or haven’t changed (i.e. we love things that make us feel good and dislike things that give us pain, we breathe, we think, we always liked the same food or activity, etc.), the “we” that we attribute to each of our “I”s are simply not real because our tastes change as we grow and evolve.
Further, since when did a collection of beliefs and thoughts transform into an entity we call a personality?!?  A personality is simply a word, just as a clock is the word we call that box that wakes us up in the morning and water is the word for the liquid we drink to give our body physical vitality and lubrication so that it can carry out its’ processes.  Personality is a word; it is not a real thing.  We must be careful in life to distinguish what is real, and what is simply a word for some other entity.
I know this sounds similar to the reasoning of RenĂ© Descartes in his Meditations, where he tried to get to the empirical foundation of who we are.  He discounted everything as being not real because it can not be relied upon.  I am simply saying be careful of what you attribute physical substance to because it might be a description of something else. 
Okay, so there is no such thing as a personality.  There is no such thing as the “I”, as we traditionally think of ourselves.  To think otherwise would be false; this would be messy and careless thinking, and it could confuse us in our quest in learning who we are.  Even legal terminology has the word “person” messed up, although their definition brings us closer to the answer. 
[PERSON. This word is applied to men, women and children, who are called natural persons. In law, man and person are not exactly synonymous terms. Any human being is a man, whether he be a member of society or not, whatever may be the rank he holds, or whatever may be his age or sex. A person is a man considered according to the rank he holds in society, with all the rights to which the place he holds entitles him, and the duties which it imposes. 1 Bouv. Inst. n. 137.  2. It is also used to denote a corporation which is an artificial person.]
So according to the legal dictionary, a person is a man, meaning a human being.  Yet even they define a human being according to his rank, which is determined either by his activities which led him to that rank, or by birth, which itself is an activity.  I ask again -- at what point did an activity (an event someone takes part in) become the “who” that the person is?  In reality, it doesn't.  We are defined by what we do and the belief systems we have, but this is not who we are.  There aren't entities called Democrats or Republicans; these are names we call people who ascribe to a certain ideology.  Even the ideology is not a thing in itself; it is a word used to describe a hodgepodge of beliefs.
So if we are not understood to be, in a physical sense, our activities, our beliefs, or our personality, then what is the “I” that we refer to when we say “I play soccer”?  We understand that it is not the description of what we do (i.e. playing soccer).  Further, when we say “I am a senator”, we know that who we are is not the legal position of being a senator.  Who we are in general is not the description at the end of the sentence.
We know that there is an “I” who has been here on Earth since we've been born.  This “I” has experienced everything we have experienced, has felt all the pains and pleasures we have felt, and has been there in-step with every move, every thought, and every tick of the clock.  Who is this?  It is your body – a bouquet of meat and water.  A close friend of mine once said “it’s a piece of flesh; you can cook it”.  It’s a frightening thing to think of any part of us detached and on a grill roasting.  Immediately, we are uncomfortable with this picture.  
But the question becomes, who is uncomfortable with this picture?  We already established that “I”, when it refers to one’s personality really is referring to nothing of substance.  If we posit that the “I” is our body, then we immediately ask what animates it.  We come to this question because a body part can not live on its own; it requires a body whole to function.  Further, we learn from science that a body part can function in a body that is not the same as the body in which it came from.  For example, when a heart is separated from it’s host, on it’s own it cannot function for an extended period of time.  On its own, like our other body parts, it will die.  However, if it is placed in another host, then it may continue to live.  
Hence, we come what seems to be our answer.  The “I” is the same entity that forms and powers the body whole.  This entity is the animator of the body that, when extracted from the body, the body no longer has life.  This entity is who we are, in whole or part.

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.