Friday, September 30, 2005

The Kabbalah Factor

Apparently, Madonna has gone and written a song about Isaac Luria. Well, all right. It's a free country.

The Balabusta was reminded of the time a couple of years ago, when a friend mentioned that she had a tenant who was doing a paper about women in world religions, and wanted to talk to someone about kabbalah. The Balabusta, being the only rabbinic school dropout this friend knew, got volunteered. Mind you, the Balabusta's knowledge of, and interest in, kabbalah, is pretty minimal. I know a little of the basic history, and have read some Chava Weissler. And I grew up on stories about some of the greats, and their Greatest Hits Miracles. I was also raised to keep a considerable distance between me and anything that even smelled a little kabbalistic, so there you are.

But I figured I'd see if I could give this girl a hand, and at least recommend Weissler. We made contact, by e-mail. It was an interesting encounter. This young woman seemed very nice, extremely sincere, and had a question.

The question was this: she had done enough reading to determine that you're supposed to be thirty, or forty, or seventy-four, or whatever it is, before taking up the Study of the Stuff. Also that you should be male. Her question: why were women not included in the study of kabbalah?

She had even gotten a tentative theory together. Her theory was that possibly, since she had also determined that studying kabbalah was dangerous, that in a matrilineal culture like Judaism, women were too valuable to be risked.

Ze'ev Chaifets says something in one of his books about a kabbalah class for some adult ed program, and describes it as being like teaching advanced physics to people who believe that a ball thrown in the air continues to rise. I had a similar reaction to this. How to respond?

I explained, gingerly, that women were generally underrepresented in Jewish scholarship, and that kabbalah is pretty arcane, also impractical as all get-out, so historically speaking, if you get a woman who's learning, it probably still won't be Kabbalah. It's funny. I'm usually the one with the examples showing that women were more learned than we think, but I found myself painstakingly trying to explain the gap that existed between men's and women's access to text in most Jewish communities, historically (and currently).

I didn't hear back. I hope she recovered. It's not easy to be told about patriarchy for the first time at twenty-two. Also, I think her grip on the structure of Jewish texts was kinda vague, so I'm not sure how much sense I was making.

Now Madonna-Esther, I hear, doesn't even sit behind the mechitza at her shul, because she's just too darn spiritually advanced. I don't much hold with a mechitza myself, but permit me to throw stuff as I consider THAT turn of events.

I wonder if I can download the song somewhere. I can't imagine buying a whole Madonna CD, but heck, to hear a pop song about Luria...

Anyway, I have a terrible confession to make. I read a book of inspirational Hasidic stories about pious women not too long ago, and there's an intriguing piece about some rebbe boasting of his daughter's kabbalistic coffee-tray arranging. You're supposed to pour the milk into the coffee, not the other way round. I've been carefully doing it like that ever since. Am I deranged, or what?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Media Creepies

On the way home from work today I picked up a copy of the San Jose Mercury News. They were running an article about how the police chief of New Orleans has resigned.

Among other things, the article discusses the apparent fact that crime in the Superdome and convention center was apparently overreported. This may well be so. We didn't have a lot to go on for a while, and the media got excited.

This bothered me however. Knight Ridder's reporters write:

But now, a month after the chaos subsided, police are re-examining the reports and finding that many of them have little or no basis in fact.

They have no official reports of rape, and no witnesses to sexual assault.

Can we consider why this might be? I remember one of those reports. It was told by a woman at the Superdome to a reporter. She said that two girls had been raped the night before, that they had called for help, and no one had done anything.

Now the NOPD have 'no official reports' and no witnesses. Does this mean that the reporter made the story up? Does it mean the lady who told the reporter the story lied about it? Hmmmm.

Let's consider the more likely scenario: the victims, rapists and witnesses are now scattered across several states, and have pressing survival needs. Getting in touch with the NOPD about a rape that happened a month ago is undoubtedly almost impossible, given the demands on NOPD's time. No one can 'come in' to give a statement, on account of they're in ARKANSAS. Or TEXAS. Or MISSISSIPPI. Or BATON ROUGE. Strangers were thrown together. Victims and witnesses can't find each other. They would probably not be able to give more than a superficial description of the suspects.

And face it. If I were a woman who'd been raped in the nightmare that was the Superdome, I think I would have received a real clear message about the ability of the NOPD to protect me. Things fell apart, and the center did not hold. Going back to be told that unless I have more information, they can't do anything (again), would not seem like my idea of therapeutic.

This seems pretty obvious to me. But along comes Erika Bolstad and Nicholas Spangler for Knight-Ridder in a tone that suggests that maybe REALLY no rapes or beatings happened at Superdome, and those who reported such to the press were just getting worked up. Hysterical. Self-dramatizing. Let's point fingers at Ray Nagin now!

Feh. Morons.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Author! Author!

The Balabusta, some years ago, used to work hard on getting published in magazines, as part of building her career as a Jewish feminist maven. She still writes a little nonfiction from time to time, but is concentrating right now on her career and her novel(s).

But occasionally, I check out my name on Google to see what's out there on the web under ME. Occasionally it's irksome--I found a response to an article I wrote some years ago that basically calls me a racist--occasionally it's funny or interesting. Here's my current bafflement:

Some over several years, I sold several articles to a Jewish online publication at two zuzim a piece or some such price. Since then, several of them have been reprinted. In some cases, I was contacted by the people who wanted to reprint, or the original publisher called "Hi, is this Balabusta? The Jewish Journal of Wyoming wants to reprint your article about buying earrings before Pesach, can they have it?" I always said yes, because like P.T. Barnum, I really just want my name spelled correctly.

But picked up one of my articles, and I got no call, I found it out on Google. I tried later to sell them another piece, pointing out that they had already published me, and got no reply at all.

Now the WZO has included me on not one but two of their sites, reprinting an article I wrote nearly ten years ago. I got no notification, no nothin'. I don't really expect money, but I guess I sort of want to at least be told so I can add it to my resume. I realize it's the Internet, but, eh...I don't know. It's weird. My work gets picked up by organizations that I don't think would HIRE me to write for them.

On the other hand, the WZO used my article! I am TOO a real Zionist!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

High Holiday Tickets

It's that time of year when everyone who doesn't belong to a shul gets nuts trying to get holiday tickets, and bitterness arises about exactly what 'no one will be turned away for lack of funds' means.

Years ago, the Balabusta was a very young meydl who had a rotten job working at a really nice synagogue. (The congregation was great. The congregation was also temporarily between synagogues, and had taken refuge in a German Lutheran Church. The church's pastor was great, but her congregation was elderly and German, and had issues about our presence. Serious, major, issues. Also, the rabbi was, er difficult. But I digress.)

Anyway, part of the Balabusta's job during the late summer was to take phone calls about High Holiday tickets. No one was to be turned away for lack of funds. But there were a couple of rules. They got tested.

The worst part was that the people who clearly couldn't afford to pay kept trying to pay. One woman asked if she could pay us the full cost in installments of twenty dollars a month. People offered to help out at the services to cover the cost of their tickets (that was actually welcome). People explained that they could pay ten dollars, twenty, a double chai. I hoped they weren't going to give up something else they needed for the holiday to give us that.

Then, we had the people who probably could pay, and didn't want to. They asked if they could have free tickets because they might join the synagogue, and if they joined, their friends would join. One woman tried to get an exchange ticket through her parents' synagogue back east. She was twenty-seven. We had the people who told me that if I didn't bring the cost down they would go to another synagogue, and then where would we be?

My all-time favorite call was from a man who was extremely irate because I wouldn't give him several free tickets for friends of his. He was particularly unhappy about this because a couple belonging to the synagogue had been given three tickets to the children's service. I explained, patiently, that this was because they had three children. He did not seem to find this good enough. I considered offering him three tickets to the children's service as well, but decided against it.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this, a Palestinian woman called to see if she could borrow a shofar for a production of Godspell. I am not kidding. We had a lovely conversation.

On How The School I Work For Is Lousy

Right now I am unable to get any support or interest about my computer situation because the entire administration is working hours and hours of overtime to balance the classload before the stroke of midnight on Tuesday (or eight AM on Wednesday), when the union will strike back if contractual obligations are not met.

I would be the last person to say this isn't needed. There's a woman across the hall from me who has over forty kids in a middle school math class. This is a recipe for student failure, and teacher collapse.

But my computer doesn't work! Hasn't worked for over a week!

On a positive note, I managed to figure out which of the four extra computers lying around in my classroom had the grading program on it, plugged a cranky but basically working printer into it, and managed to power the whole thing up. So there's that.

I have my health. Thought I was getting sick on Friday, but it turned out to be some kind of allergy attack.

Only one parent showed up to my ESL-parent meeting. Luckily, he was the dad of one of my best students, so it was easy to be nice to him.

I need to do laundry now.

Mitzvah watch

Reading Time Magazine I came across the story of Forrest King, a 'self described "dyed-in-the-wool" conservative' from Massachusetts who decided he and his family needed to take in a Katrina refugee family.

"The government failed," says King. "The citizens have to stand up and say 'Get out of the way. We'll take care of our own.'"

So he's been matched through some online service with the Meehan-Hoos, a lesbian couple with three kids.

"The adults are same-sex and I don't care," [King] says. "I don't care if they're purple and got horns coming out of their faces. They're Americans first."

Okay, it's a feel-good story, a little fluffy, and in the same article they point out that some families have had much worse luck taking in strangers (while many have done fine.) But heck, I needed it, the reminder that there are a lot of nice people out there, who watch (even) Fox News and come to the conclusion they need to do a huge mitzvah, rather than tuning out the world. People who may be a teeny bit freaked out about lesbians, but offer them a home because they're Americans and need one.

While I'm on the subject, let me also sing the praises of the blondish woman in the blue Capri pants in downtown San Francisco, who rushed over to a homeless woman who had fallen out of her wheelchair, and helped her get settled again. I was at the corner, weighing the possibilities of helping--safe? Needed? Should I ask one of the stores to call an ambulance? What about the smell of liquor pervading the scene? When this gal walked right up, righted the wheelchair, and helped this woman get back into it.

We have some good people running around out there.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Computers Down, Balabusta Shaky

The computer at my work went down Thursday. That means I can't send e-mail, or take attendence, or do any kind of work on the computer. Luckily I keep my grades on my home computer, and planned to do some lesson planning on that computer as well this weekend. However, as of this morning, that computer is down too.

I am typing this on the boyfriend's machine. I did a week of lesson plans on lined paper.

I simply feel overloaded. I was planning to post the grades this week to scare my do-nothing morning class, but now I'm going to instead spend time reconstructing my gradebook from paper notes--guess I'm back to entering it by hand into a notebook until I can get a mouse that works with the work computer that I can ask for the grading program to be loaded onto the computer that's different from the computer that's down. The printer I scavenged at work doesn't work at all, so I can't print out at work. Oh, and all the writing I've been working on is in the home computer that's down--I have backups of most of it, but the backups are on disks in the garage...somewhere. And I have nothing to transfer them to.

I wept. I simply broke down and sobbed like a little kid that none of it was fair. I still feel incredibly shaky. None of this is too awful by itself, but in terms of getting set up for my second year of teaching, which so far has been very messed up and complicated, it just seems that one thing after another is happening, and I can't deal with all of it--and it's assumed at work that I will function at a high level whether the computer works or not.

I think I need to be working at a different school next year. Perhaps the kind where they have computers with grading programs on them, and printers attached.

Also, I am presiding over a meeting of the ESL students' parents on Wednesday, and I have to share the floor with our principal, who is just a problem. And I'm already tired on Sunday afternoon. Ugh.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Shul Shopping Part II--Temple Beth Abraham

This morning the Balabusta finally got up, got dressed, and went to the next target on the shul shopping list, Temple Beth Abraham, Conservative shul of Oakland, CA. To get there, I took the BART to MacArthur, disembarked, considered the bus situation, and took a cab--this relates to some of the issues with this shul discussed below. But no major transit problems.

I seem to have incredible bat mitzvah luck these days--just as at Netivot Shalom, I arrived to discover that there was a bat mitzvah in progress. I realized this as I arrived, since standing on the steps was a girl of twelve or thirteen, in a party dress and holding a gift bag with ribbons on it--dead giveaway that there is a bat mitzvah on the grounds. Sure enough.

The bat mitzvah was a little shy, but did very nicely. She likes pink. I was able to determine this not only from the decorations at the oneg, but also from the fact that the satin cereal-bowl yarmulkes with her names and the date stamped on the lining being passed out by the family were pink. Not just pink. A bright, vivid hot pink so pink that it makes the white lining look royal blue in contrast when I wear my glasses. The Balabusta kept her hat on, but took one of the yarmulkes anyway--it was just too incredible. The bat mitzvah's father went so far as to mention from the bimah that he was fifty-four years old, and this was the first time anyone had ever succeeded in making him wear pink.

Here follows the report:


Their hospitality is fabulous. I sat down randomly at the oneg and was immediately drawn into conversation by a woman who not only filled me in on various synagogue events, and asked all about me, but when she heard I needed transportation advice to get back to El Cerrito, rushed into the crowd and returned with a congregant who also lived in El Cerrito and could give me a lift. This woman, in turn, introduced me to her friends, told me all about the rabbi, and engaged me in a discussion at her table about what a terrible bat mitzvah portion Ki Tetze is.

The shul is beautiful, with gorgeous old-fashioned brickwork, and beautiful cut-metal artwork illustrating the holidays over the windows. It looks Reform inside--I don't know what I mean by that, except sort of a combo of Edwardian detailing with dramatically modern 50's-ish touches. The doors of the ark are lovely.

I felt very appropriately dressed in dark slacks and a nice sweater. And although many women were bareheaded, and some in the amazingly pink yarmulkes, I was not the only hat in sight.

There seems to be a nice range of generations, and the small kids come up on the bimah at the end of the service to sing/shriek Ein Keloheinu, which I always appreciate.

The cantor has a beautiful voice, and great presence.

From conversation at the oneg I deduce that they have a great deal of congregant involvement in organizing events and leading the davening.

The rabbi looks rather like Matthew Broderick, and seems to be very good with kids, and warm toward the bat mitzvah and her family.

They have a really nice little gift shop. I notice these things. And they have those great old-fashioned seat backs with racks for your siddur and chumash.


Their location is not great for me. The lady who drove me home gave me her card, and offered to drive me any time she was planning to attend shul, but, say that she's NOT going some week, it's nearly an hour's schlep on transit, and once you're out, there's really nowhere to go--they're in a residential neighborhood right off the freeway.

This may have been a function of the bat mitzvah, but the atmosphere of the davening seemed a little cool. I like it noisy and multi-layered, this was more formal, and, like I said, a little more Reformish in style. People seemed quite quiet, and the singing didn't really get off the ground.

The rabbi seemed slightly at a loss as to what to say about Ki Tetze's less savory chunks (not that I really blame him, but).

I really hate it when the chairs are bolted down in the sanctuary.


I really liked the people I met, but kind of wished I'd seen more people around my age. The davening atmosphere does not seem entirely perfect to me--but what's perfect? The location is a point against the place.

I'm not entirely sure that judging a shul first by its Shabbos morning services is the best idea, but that's my most common shul activity.

I shall check out some more places. I still need to check out Kehillah.

I've heard good things about Beth Jacob and Beth Israel. Both are Orthodox, and I'm not sure if that could possibly work out for me in terms of membership, but I figure I might as well visit and see what I think. Even if I don't end up a member at every shul I visit, I figure I'll find out about classes, things that are happening, etc.

I wish there was a Sephardi synagogue in the East Bay--I like services at Magen David in San Francisco--but there doesn't seem to be any.

I'm going to take a nap now.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Hunters and Gatherers

We're talking over on DovBear's site--sorry, my hyperlink ability is still shaky--about Dennis Prager's dubious view of women. On a related note, the Balabusta and the boyfriend went out into the night to get pizza, since the Balabusta managed a beautiful chicken stew in apricot sauce last night, but has a headache tonight and cannot think about cooking.

We stopped on the way at Barnes and Noble, and the Balabusta wandered for a while. As we headed out, the boyfriend promised that soon we would return, and I would be allowed to run barefoot through the books "picking them up, and looking through them, and putting them down for no apparent reason".

"Don't you ever browse?" asked I.

"I usually go in knowing what I want," he said. "It's a hunter thing."

I have this theory, which I've shared with him, about the real core differences between men and women being based in a hunter-gatherer split. I do not know enough about early human development to have any idea if this is even possibly scientific, just that it seems to explain certain patterns in shopping to me.

The theory was born out of a phone call with the Balabusta's mother a couple of years ago. Apparently the Balabusta's father had mentioned he needed a new belt, and there was a sale on at Mervyns'. The Bluejeanses Sr. went to Mervyns', where my dad riffled through a couple of belts, and selected one. "Where do you want to have lunch?" he asked.

"Don't you want to look at the other belts?" my mother demanded. He didn't. He wanted a reversible black/brown belt to wear to work. He'd found one. It was time to eat.

The theory I produced is this: men shop like hunters. You want an antelope. You look for an antelope. You kill the antelope. If you dither around looking for a better antelope, you may not get an antelope at all.

Women shop like gatherers. You can only carry so much back to the cave, so you choose carefully. You look around to see if something new has grown, or if the stuff you liked last time has new fruits or sprouts. And you look CAREFULLY at each thing you select, because if you don't look CAREFULLY, you could poison the whole tribe.

It's a flawed theory, but it helps put in perpective the boyfriend's tendency to regard a pleasant trip to the grocery store as something akin to Iwo Jima. He runs up and down the aisles, throwing stuff into the cart and occasionally developing strategic zig-zags if it looks as though we might be slowed down. A pause to examine produce makes him nervous.

And bookstores are for BROWSING. If I knew what I wanted, I would order a used one online!

Monday, September 12, 2005

More About Edmund

Just recalled a story I wanted to mention--last week, in class, Edmund, my book-losing student, pulls out a Q-tip and begins to clean his ears. In class. I raise my eyebrows, but decide the battle is not to be fought right then. I go on teaching.

A few minutes later, Edmund raises his hand, and asks if he can get up to throw the Q-tip away. This is too much, and I shake my head. "Put it in your pocket," I tell him quietly. He looks at me in HORROR. "But it's dirty!" he protests.

I am surrounded by vilde chayas. With very clean ears.

I Knew There Was A Reason I Didn't Like Orange

A man walks past a burning vehicle

And I suppose that this is it.

It's the third straight night of rioting in Belfast, as the loyalists swerve out of control. It barely made the U.S. papers (for some obvious reasons, we are a little preoccupied at the moment), but frankly, the British press clearly doesn't care too much either.

Welcome to the fabulous world of the Irish peace process. 'Loyalist' nutjobs have attacked a police station with gasoline bombs and vehicles, and have been fighting both Belfast police and the British army in the streets. (Does it make sense to call them loyalists when they're trying to kill British troops?) Cars have been torched, property destroyed, and about fifty police officers injured at last count. Police came under live fire, in addition to attacks with blast bombs, fireworks, and Orangemen with 'ceremonial sabres and pikes'.

The cause of all this nightmare is that the Orangemen were prevented from taking the parade route they prefer, the one that runs threateningly right up to the edge of Catholic neighborhoods. When they were ordered away, through a factory grounds, all hell broke loose.

Shouldn't surprise anyone. These are the same folks who lost it in Ardoyne a few years ago when Catholic elementary-school kids had to walk past a Protestant neighborhood to get to school. There was an element in town that objected. The kids had to go to school with armed police escorting them. A blast bomb was tossed at cops escorting small children to school. It was a matter of principle.

Now, here we go again. New Orleans is under water, all the war zones are still war zones, and look who thinks they're oppressed--the guys whose parade route was altered so they couldn't menace the neighbors.

I have roots in that corner of the world, and while most of the time I limit my involvement to ceremonially cursing the IRA on St. Patrick's Day, occasionally the ugliness and the stupidity that Belfast can erupt into a moment's notice gets through to me. I'm more or less used to the idea of the large number of people in the world who hate me for being a Jew. Now and then I get to recall the folks who hate Irish Catholics--which I am by ethnicity though not faith--as well. Some people will tell you these are regular working-class people who feel threatened by perceived concessions to the 'other side'. That's also what they'll tell you about the KKK.

I knew there was a reason I didn't like orange as a political color. Just remembered what it was.

Textbook Definition

"All right class, open your books to p. 8."

"Ms. Balabusta! Ms. Balabusta! I don't have it."

"Why don't you have your book, Edmund?"

"I left it in your class Friday, and then I came back, and you were gone, and now I don't know where it is."

"Edmund, this is the second day we've had the textbooks, and you're telling me you lost yours already?"

"I didn't lose it! I left it here, and then I came back, and you were gone and..."

"You don't know where it is. Edmund, I hate to tell you this, but leaving your book somewhere and not knowing where it is is the textbook definition of having lost it."

"I didn't lose it! I left it here."

"Where is it now?"

"I don't know!"

This kid has never in his life copped to being unprepared for class. We have this conversation a lot.

"Ms. Balabusta, can I have a pencil?"

"This is the second day you've come unprepared to class, Edmund."

"I didn't come unprepared!"

"Yes, actually you did. You don't have a pencil."

"Nooooooo. I'm not unprepared, I just don't have anything to write with!"

Brought Kid X, my child-I-suspect-is-ADHD a stress ball. He immediately broke it. I could only find the kind that have squishy plastic stuff inside. No match for Kid X. We'll try again.

Brought the janitor some windchimes--my best interaction of the day. I owed him for bringing my fish up from the first floor.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Watchtower

Last weekend we had a knock on the door, and when I opened the little grille we have instead of a peephole, there was a pleasant-looking middle-aged couple who wanted to share a Bible reading with me. I explained I wasn't available, and they left.

This, I can see, is going to be a disadvantage of the 'burbs. I'm on ground level here, and there may be more roving missionaries out there. The only roving missionaries I ever encountered at my door in San Francisco were the nice young people who showed up from time to time to ask if there were any baptized Catholics in the house. That was fine. It was like the Mitzvah Mobile, except I wasn't a target. I said "No, there aren't," and they said "Okay, thanks," and left. I went upstairs, the first time, and checked to see if the boyfriend might secretly be a baptized Catholic, but he said he wasn't.

Downtown, of course, we had Mormons, and Jews for Jesus, and several less well-defined groups, plus the guy who's been standing at the Powell Street BART station since I was in grade school, advocating chastity, and the Fallen, Fallen is Babylon the Great Sandwich Sign Guy. The Fallen, Fallen is Babylon the Great Sandwich Sign Guy is notable for at one time having taken on a helper, who also wore a sandwich sign with the same quote from Revelations. We also have Frank Chu, known only as the Sign Guy, whose message may or may not have some religious content. But I digress.

Anyway, on Friday morning I was waiting for the bus in Alameda, drinking my coffee from Tillie's, and a lady came by and offered me a copy of the Watchtower. I took it. On closer inspection it turned out to be in Tagalog. She came back a couple of minutes later, having apparently realized I probably didn't read Tagalog, and exchanged it for something in English.

I never know exactly how to deal with these sorts of things. The Mormons I am aggressive with because they want to TALK to you, and also I can't deal with nineteen year old boys wearing nametags that identify them as Elder Soandso. And I am bluntly hostile with the Jews for Jesus--the boyfriend was once startled when I suggested, only mostly joking, that he should ram the vehicle a group of them had just parked. But the Jehovah's Witness folks are usually nice, middle-aged ladies who don't get in your face, go away if asked, and just give you literature. I generally end up taking a copy of the Watchtower and smiling. Then I feel as though I should have given some sort of speech, and didn't, and feeling rather inadequate. But it was seven-fifteen in the morning, and I really just wanted more coffee.

Shouldn't Have Paid My Bills This Morning

I kept having to write the date.

Got it!

Okay, it's weird, I apparently have to type in posts to Edit HTML, rather than compose, but who cares? I can actually see blogger blogs in paragraph blocks, rather than one word at a time running down the side of the screen. Life is good for the Mac OS 9 user.

The boyfriend hates the Mac. I don't know why. Rosie (the computer is Rosie Robotnik, she's a red IMac) has never done anything to him. I will admit though that I have had this computer--a Christmas present about six years ago--for about six years, and although she runs fine, it's getting harder to find software and updates that work. Anyway, the boyfriend is a manic PC user, one of these people who thinks a single-button mouse is a personal affront. At least he's not as insane as some of the nuts I've met online, who seem to feel that using a Mac is an offense that entitles them to abuse you in language I normally reserve for the president of the United States. It's pretty extreme out there. And until recently I was an AOL user as well. Double whammy.

Anyway, we're up and running, and I think I can actually do pictures and hyperlink again.

Trying Again

Let's see if this works. The Balabusta is trying to use Mozilla, and while it has fixed some of her problems with Blogger, it's been sort of weird...



Tuesday, September 06, 2005


Hit one problem, see another pop up...

Work is wild right now, with teachers frantically demanding information, and the administration sinking under the load.

I went by the counselor's office to see if I could nag her about something. I couldn't. Her plug-in Glade air freshener had shorted out the wiring in her office, and she'd had to close down her computer.

It was that kind of day.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Wanting to Be Perfect

As I may or may not have mentioned before, I adopted the nom de blog 'Balabusta in Blue Jeans', because 'balabusta' is one of many Hebrew and Yiddish words referring to women who have got it going on, at home and away, which I find endlessly tempting and fascinating. Being a balabusta is a goal on my part, one I slowly work toward with a copy of Flylady's book in one hand, and a To Do list in the other, and a Swiffer clenched between my toes.

One of my most basic self-assigned problems in life is this:

I am inherently disorganized. I forget to check my messages and am then afraid to call people back because it's too late. I pu things down in big piles on the furniture, rather than putting them away where they belong. Cleaning takes forever. I start big projects I don't have time for. I am afraid of looking bad. I work incessently on lesson plans, trying to make them perfect, and they're not, and then I've spend two hours on one lesson plan, rather than planning the whole week and being done with it already. Nothing is ever done, because I'm still making long lists of what I'll do to it next.

Things die in my fridge. I've half to seven-eighths written three novels. And I let all of this get to me at times.

Some people seem to be able to take this kind of thing and make it work for them, because it tells them they are free, and spontaneous and creative. It makes me insane. I have a fantasy, you see...

She's a bit like the RenReb's Dinner Rebbetzin, I think. The fantasy version of me gets up in the morning, showers, and her hair falls into place. Great, inherently appropriate clothes fly off the rack, and on to her body, while I am trying to decide if my bra straps will show through that shirt, and realizing that the wrinkles didn't fall out of my skirt after all.

She davens Shacharit and Maariv and never gets confused and thrown off by the directions for assorted yontiffs. She drives. (Trying to get there.) She's active (superactive) in her synagogue, Hadassah, the Irish Cultural center, the SCA, the local young writer's community, Planned Parenthood, the teacher's union, and the Democratic Party. Occasionally she organizes a fundraiser for Magen David Adom. She can make a martini. (I won't even drink a martini, so I don't know what use this is supposed to be.)

She deals effectively with her principal, who worships the ground she walks on. She hosts fun evenings for the other teachers. She is always there for her students, and they love her. When she is firm and clear about her classroom expectations, it sticks. She never accidentally writes the wrong grade on a paper in red ink and then has to cross it out. If she did such a thing, she wouldn't worry about the kid showing it to other teachers and them thinking her a dingbat.

She cooks from scratch and freezes. Nothing goes bad in her fridge. She's published a novel already, and has a contract for another. She manages money sensibly, and is not afraid of landlords. She weighs about forty pounds less than I do, and her trichotillomania is totally under control. Also, she does not bite her nails. Also, she moisturizes every morning and always wears sunblock. All her friends turn to her for support, and she is able to fix their problems, find them people to marry, and organize the wedding in her sleep. Everyone needs her for everything, and she is able to take care of all of them. She never makes mistakes.

Also, she buys Christmas presents in October, forgets no one's birthday, and throws at least four big, charming parties every year. And she leads her own Seder and hosts Thanksgiving. She has never paid a bill late in her life, and her credit rating is great. Her house is immaculate. And beautifully, although inexpensively, decorated.

She still has time to sit on her deck and watch the sunset, and spend quality time with her boyfriend.

Deep breath. That's the horrible truth. Unfortunately, this woman is not me. She does not exist. Her only actual job, which is probably why she's able to do it so very well, is to sit in my head and criticize everything I do.

Yes, I've got a therapist. She has allowed me to get to the point where I realize this is sort of silly, and have made changes in my life that make me very happy. The superego twit still hangs out with me and interferes.

Her plate has actually gotten more focused and less full. There was a time when she was also supposed to belong to a million and a half save-the-world type lefty organizations, and work for zilch pay at a heroic women's nonprofit, and write a major third-wave feminist book. Then the Balabusta turned twenty-eight, and her tolerance for the anti-Semitism of the American Left bottomed out, so the superego twit is now at least allowed to hold down a middle-class job. This is big progress.

I'm sitting here giggling, but this woman really takes up too much of time. And it's tricky to sort out, because she may be fictional, oboxious, and impossible, but she really does represent all of the things I want to do. One thing at a time, I guess, and some careful picking and choosing.

Anyone else out there got one of these people?

Sunday, September 04, 2005

New House Puzzles

I've been back to work for a week, and in that time, the alarm clock situation has become dire.

The bedroom of the new house is small, although big enough--we tend to live in the living room and computer room, so the bedroom is basically used for sleeping, storing clothes, and occasionally I will read in there, sitting on the bed, if the fella is watching something on TV I'm not interested in.

However, it has two electrical outlets. One is across from the foot of the bed. The other is now behind the head of the bed.

I can't plug anything into the one behind the bed, because the bed rests against it, and will work plugs loose. So I can't put my alarm clock on my bedside bookshelf, which is what I normally would do.

Instead, the clock is opposite the foot of the bed, on a stool. That would be okay, except that a. I have to physically leave bed to turn it off, sometimes requiring stumbling and confusion, and b. I am shortsighted enough that I can't see the glowing red time without my glasses.

And the Balabusta is paranoid about missing her five-thirty wake-up call and being late to work if her horrible commute is thrown off, so especially in the fall, she is prone to wake up for the first time around four and wake up to check the clock at periodic intervals after that. The boyfriend remarked recently that he has been awakened in the night by odd clicking noises, which he was able to identify after some confusion as the Balabusta picking up her glasses from the nightstand, putting them on to check the time, and then putting them back down.

There must be a better way of doing this.

Also, the Balabusta does not really have so many clothes as all that, but the clothes rod in the closet is sagging in the middle.

On the bright side, I did a TON of laundry today, and have socks and tights and undies that will last for quite some time. I also found a sweater I was missing, and opened a box that proved to have some work clothes in it including my favorite black work slacks, (Chicos, comfortable, cut big enough, and sort of textured fabric, go with everything) and some long-sleeved T-shirts, as well as a couple of wedding-type outfits (less necessary, but hey, someone could get married.)

I also washed some things of the fella's, including his overalls. The overalls proved to have a handful of big nails in the pocket. The washing machine suffered no damage that I can tell.

Watching the World On TV

Growing up in an earthquake zone, you get used to the idea that the natural world can kill you easily, and that some day the Big One will come, maybe today, or maybe twelve years from now.

But I'm still glued to the TV and newspaper coverage of Katrina, overwhelmed with the disaster that's come down on the Gulf Coast.

Various persons out there have attributed Katrina's fury to (I'm keeping a list, in no particular order), the Gaza pullout, homosexuality, the Iraq war, and general malfeasance of the United States.

Yesterday I was taking the 1 California bus toward downtown, and passed the Chinese Baptist church up in the Fillmore. Tagged on the side:

Bush Sent Troops to Iraq.


I am reminded of a scene in Vikram Seth's excellent and endless novel _A Suitable Boy_, where a young God-seeking man attends a huge Hindu festival where a panic breaks out in the crowd. Hundreds of people die, trampled to death. Dipankar, the character, turns to the man he hopes will become his guru and asks why it happened, expecting a deep spiritual answer. The old man tells him that the emergency planning for the festival was not good.

In this case, of course, there's a clear natural cause for what happened, combined with lousy levee funding and emergency planning. I am not a theologian, in fact I think theology is pretty silly by its very nature. But I will go on record as saying that I don't have a particularly satisfying reason for why the world was so organized that people and their lives can be destroyed like this, but I absolutely reject the idea that any of us can find out God's motivations by exmaining our own political beliefs.

On Friday, the kid who always comes by from the library and delivers the Oakland Tribune to my classroom came by. I took the paper. A home nurse was screaming to passerby to bring her patient oxygen. This was just a badly paid, maybe emotionally satisfying job until Katrina hit--and now this woman is in a ruined city, trying to protect her patient. I nearly burst out crying in class.

Meanwhile, I'm cheerfully encouraging my students to go frost cupcakes for hurricane relief. (A local store wanted some volunteers.) It's at times like this that I really wish I worked in a Jewish school, or at least with kids who spoke fluent English. Sometimes I want to tell the kids things I can't communicate to them, about living in the world, and the responsibility we have.

I need to go write a check or something.