Wednesday, June 4, 2008


View of Interior of Harris
View from Our Table at Harris'

Downed Old Tree Near the Convention Center in DC

At the writer's group on Monday, I was finally able to purchase the newly-published first memoir of our teacher/facilitator, Linda C. Wisniewski, directly from her. She gets an additional profit from it if I purchase it from her rather than the publisher. I awoke very early on Tuesday morning and began to read it and was stunned to find my own name printed in the acknowledgments along with the other members of our writers group. For a writer, seeing your name in print is probably akin to seeing your name up in lights on a marquis for an actor.

The book, published by Pearlsong Press, is titled, "Off Kilter" and is billed as "A woman's journey to peace with scoliosis, her mother, and her Polish heritage." The last two days have been extremely busy and filled with fun as well as work, so I found it impossible to finish reading it until this afternoon. I thought it provided incredible insight into the processes that shape who we are as children, who we become as adults, and what we can do to become the people that we want to be, sometimes despite the weight of our genes and our background that work to throw us off balance. Linda was diagnosed with scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, at age 13. The condition not only causes her physical pain and emotional distress, but actually does physically affect her balance. She uses the condition as a metaphor for her transformation from an oppressed and emotionally-scarred child, afraid to speak up for herself, to a more contented, worldly, and self-sufficient woman.

For me, the book also provided insight into a world that is totally unfamiliar to my experience growing up as a secular Jew in a Jewish neighborhood in a big city. I love books that take me to places I could never experience in real life, and her writing unflinchingly about her strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of her family and community, is a great act of courage. She has said in class that once the book was out in print for all to see, it takes on a valid life of its own, open to others' interpretation, and sometimes not what she intended at all. Now that I have begun this process of blogging, I know what she means. Anyone can read your most intimate musings and may not interpret them as you meant them. I hope I am choosing my words wisely!

The theme of the search for balance in one's life reminded me of Rabbi Addison's first book, which I read many years ago, about the Enneagram, a Kabbalistic model for understanding the relationship between the body and soul. I found the first section of his book quite esoteric and beyond my grasp, but in the back sections I discovered a new understanding of and a new way of perceiving personality traits. Until that time, I had seen certain personality characteristics as virtues or shortcomings. I learned that almost any characteristic, no matter how virtuous, taken to extreme, can be a shortcoming. A person who is humble and self-effacing can be too humble and self-effacing. A person who is confident can become over-confident and pompous. Even a person who is upbeat and perky all the time can be a real pain. On the flip side, a person who is compulsive can be a great organizer. There is a fine line between someone who is bossy and someone who is a great leader. In order to move through this world in an emotionally satisfying way, it is necessary strive for balance. The object is to be able to assess yourself honestly and fight the urge to do what is comfortable, familiar, or repetitive if it puts you off balance. Rabbi Addison has practical suggestions for how to counterbalance overblown tendencies we have to act in certain ways. Linda has examined herself, her spirituality and specifically, her mother, carefully, and found her own path to overcoming her imbalances. I think we all should be aware of our predispositions, both genetic and bred, and strive for a balance, not overcompensating, but tempering and adjusting our actions to be sensitive to others.

Yesterday, after working all morning on the computer, we picked up Ralph and Ann Marie at 2:15 p.m. and had a relaxing and enjoyable two-hour drive to the Eastern shore of Maryland to a restaurant called Harris's. It is a dockside restaurant, usually known only to boaters, which we are not. Saul and I discovered it on one of our meandering trips between DC and home when Ari was an undergrad at George Washington University. For the most part, the weather was beautiful and we sat for several hours overlooking the Chesapeake Bay watching laid-back fishermen angling and mallard ducks floating lazily by the large wall of windows at which we dined. We stopped at a large outlet mall on the way back, went off to our separate favorite stores for 20 minutes, regrouped, and bought ourselves ice cream cones to be eaten in the car as the rain began to dampen our road back home. After dropping off our friends, we arrived home about 11:30 p.m., exhausted, but happy and relaxed.

All my work had come in yesterday afternoon and was waiting for me early this morning. I was able to get a lot done, but have been playing catch up all day not knowing what to do first. This evening, an enormous storm came through, forcing us to shut down our computers. As soon as it began to let up, we ran out to Costco and Giant to get the rest of our supplies for the Rap for Israel event on Sunday as well as the dinner preceding our study session for Shavuot which begins Sunday evening. The stores are only five minutes away, but so much flooding had occurred that there were police cars closing off flooded roads in almost all directions. Ari experienced the same swiftly moving and violent storms in DC. On his way home from work, he snapped photos of a large downed tree. He made it home without getting wet, but just in time. 

No comments: