I am the man!

Category: "Personal"

Susan

  10/08/13 06:00, by , Categories: Personal

So I was on the phone this morning with my father. He's not happy with my sister's choice of boyfriend. He goes so far as to call him a fraud; he suggests that Janis misrepresents his education and his accomplishments, and that his history (and I suppose therefore motivations) is unclear.

So we spoke about accomplishment and education, and of course the discipline that comes with pursuing a proper education. That's a big one with him. I suppose discipline is one of those things he feels he got from school. (I suppose it is also something he sees as my not having got out of my own education). He likes to recall a Herr Doktor something or other who was his math teacher and drove the class until they got it.

I mentioned that my Yakov is finally seeing through the Mist (the German meaning is more appropriate) and seeing that our system of education isn't all it's professed to be. So we got around to my own education. I don't know how we came around to it, but he mentioned that I couldn't even write my own damned college essay.

He is of course right, but it wasn't out of lack of discipline, at least not in that case. What was missing was that I could not find my own voice, that I would not even have been sure of my own voice if I'd heard it screaming at me.

And Susan was there for Thanksgiving, beautiful and always larger than life, and I took down her story, and it became my essay. But I did not have the balls to properly attribute the work. As I was later acknowledged in a different context, hers "was a contribution more akin to authorship than editing."

Required Statement

It's Thanksgiving. My mother always assembles strange assortment of people, but the one constant who always materializes is Susan, whom we, the kids, call Tante Susan. She is not really our aunt, but a strange elfin-like woman who has been my mother's friend since before my birth. My mother was a nurse at Doctor's Hospital in New York City when Tante Susan had her first plastic surgery. There were others to follow, but Tante Susan is determined to retain her Peter Pan type quality till the day she dies. My mother and Tante Susan are nothing alike, but there is between them a bond of love, that rare quality that exists among too few women of loyalty, of respect for the differences, and knowledge of sameness. Tante Susan is an original, a Bohemian, who would have been at home amidst Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury crowd or Gertrude Stein and the Paris Salons of the 1930s, or certainly Dorothy Parker and the crowd at the Algonquin.

Whenever Tante Susan appears, instant screaming arises between her and my father, for Tante Susan is at the core, a women's libber, and my father is patriarchal to the core, which isn't to say that my mother is the clinging vine . . . far form it. She is clever enough to run the family while letting my father think he does, but Tante Susan is not so subtle, and she sends my father's blood pressure soaring. Tante Susan has always maintained that it is my generation, the young men, who are to be the saviours of the women's movement for liberation. So I was brought up to be able to cook, to sew a little, to cry if I needed while still longing for a gun at the holidays. Tante Susan holds out little home for the younger women in my generation, like my sisters, who still seem to measure their worth by the men they marry.

Susan had been married when I first met her, a mistake to say the least for somehow she was never "Sadie, Sadie, married Lady." The divorce was horrendous. My mother was summoned at three in the morning to our local Howard Johnson's where Susan, in a fit of anger - for a chauvinistic judge had continued to treat her, as so many of his generation did, as a wife, the personal property of her husband, and not as a citizen - had attempted to destroy her room. The divorce had come about because, after thirteen years of marriage, Tante Susan had become involved in a Vita Sackville-West kind of liaison. Her Victorian husband felt that this was "UNAMERICAN," and failed to realize that they hadn't slept together in ten years, primarily because Susan's success in her career had surpassed that of his own.

As horrendous as the divorce was, she was not nearly the victim the women with whom she had come in contact were: those whose husbands had left them at the age of forty, with grown children, for younger women, those who had not the faintest idea how they could provide for themselves or even survive alone for they had no identity of their own alone in their large stately homes in Connecticut. After the divorce, Tante Susan bought houses and antique sports cars the way other women bought hats. My father moaned and groaned and was certain that she was headed toward bankruptcy, but somehow she pulled it off. It took its toll and Tante Susan went in for her third plastic surgery. She went back to college and got her Ph.D., restored her houses, restored her cars and hung her mink in the closet while she donned a denim jacket and drove a taxi through the New York City night to pay her bills.

She promised me faithfully when I was twelve that she would wait for me, and damned if she didn't, but somehow we have both agreed that she has grown to young for me, and that I should find a woman, not unlike her, that I can go through life with together but separate for as Robert Frost one wrote "Good neighbors like good fences."

So I have spent a lot of time living up to and living down that essay at the same time. It has become a part of me. For a long time, it was a symptom of my own conversation (hidden script as Sethi would say, little voice a la Landmark) that I don't matter, that my own words are not good enough. Therefore, I used those of another. The funny thing is that when I look at my own writing of the time, it really was quite good, but I'll never know if it would have been good enough.

So I completely identified when my father suggested that Janis is a fraud. I have been no different, too often telling my father only what I thought he'd want to hear, or more often sharing nothing, because what I might have to say "is not good enough." It has taken a long time and a lot of work for me to get that I am okay, even great, in fact exceptional.

I have learned from lying, and taking it all too personally, the cost of deceit, the worst part being the doubt I have sown about myself and my own ability. But I have also grown.

The essay has given me an ideal to live into, one of contribution and love of my neighbor, an acknowledgment of the contribution and strength of my mother, though perhaps a bit harsh on my father (and my sisters and the rest of the world), who has also been a model of commitment and contribution.

So what's the point? I share this in the hopes that my own children - and the rest of their generation - will find the freedom to hear and follow their own voices, to trust themselves, it is hoped somewhat free of the type of drama that Susan brought into her life. And perhaps, unlike Susan, to get the true point of "Mending Wall," that most fences are in fact unnecessary.

Gratitude

  07/02/13 06:00, by , Categories: Uncategorized, Personal

So many of my mentors suggest that it is important to take stock of the things one is grateful for that I figure it's about time I share some of mine:

  • My kids: They are simply the best. and I am clear of the part my wife and I have played that they have come out the way they have.
  • My darling wife and partner: She is the epitome of love, commitment and support. I am privileged to be able to choose her again and again and again.
  • My curiosity and good sense: I suppose I have a long history of teachers, educators and friends to thank for this but mostly I thank the almighty for giving me the mix of those things that has brought me to where I am.

Because Sometimes You Ought to Make Some Noise

  02/21/13 21:34, by , Categories: Personal

I publish this one for my boy Yaakov (see below). I really ought to put up a picture of him. You see last week, his school took his class to Tel Chai for Shabbat. He rolled in after ten o'clock in at night. He was tired, so he asked us if he could stay home the next day. We said sure. He's a great young man, responsible about school, caring and all that, and if he says he'd like a day off, we generally have no problem with it. So he slept in and took it easy. The next day he went back to school. Apparently, a third of his class saw fit to take Sunday off, and his teacher got pissed, so he gave them all detention. When Yaakov called me at three on Monday to let me know he'd be home late, I was livid. I told him to get on the damned bus and disregard the detention and told him, "we've got his back."

His response was that they would then make him stay the next day. I told him we would not stand it if he chose not to. He stayed anyway. I guess sometimes it seems easier to go with the flow. There are any number of my friends who will tell you I don't necessarily choose the easy way, and I suppose I was asking Yakov to choose the path of greater resistance, but I think there is an important lesson to be learned in standing up against even these small injustices, and too much of this kind of shtick goes on in his school.

I share the following as an object lesson. My friend Gunther lives in southern Germany, and has made a bit of noise fighting against his and the Swiss governments' plans and agreements to let the Zurich airport use southern German airspace for planes in holding patterns, this in large part to meet more stringent noise pollution rules in Switzerland. But whether it is an airport doing regularly what is only supposed to be done in limited circumstances, or a school imposing unjust and arbitrary punishments for students taking care of themselves, the principal is the same, Sometimes You Just Ought to Make Some Noise. As uncomfortable as it may look from the outset, your quality of life, and perhaps the quality of all human life, is at stake.

In Support of My Friend and Fellow Rabble-Rouser, Gunther Volk
David R. HerzApril 16, 2012

I write because my friend and fellow noise-maker, Gunther Volk, and I recently had a discussion. Mr. Volk lamented that Germans are too quick to submit to authority and to believe that that authority has the best interests of the populace at heart. Indeed, my friend Mr. Volk has his own issues with those who hold positions of public trust because he does not keep his mouth shut when he has something to contribute. Not only does he think, but he exercises the freedom to express those thoughts.

I think this is good, but it apparently rubs against a certain German sense of order. The more I have thought about this, the more I have concluded that Germany, Europe, and the world have failed to learn the lessons of the last great war, and indeed all of human history. These lessons are quite simple:

  1. There is evil in the world, perhaps a kernel of it in the hearts of all men.
  2. Evil can not be appeased.
People seem to have an incredible lack of imagination, or historic memory. It is very difficult for them to see from another’s viewpoint. The dominant view of Western thought is “live and let live.” We believe in individual rights and freedoms, coupled with varying degrees of responsibility and mutual assistance on a broad spectrum from the libertarian out to the limits of the socialist democracy. We argue vociferously about every nuance within this spectrum, but are not generally offended by any balance chosen within it.

Our problem is that we want to believe that the world falls within this spectrum, and that flashes of violence represent transient and limited aberrations, that we have grown and are somehow unlike the generations that came and pursued war before us. We see the tenderness with which an evil person can treat his child, or the tear that person sheds, and want to believe that person is no different than we are. We can not fathom that a person could see our tears and our own dead and hand out candies to celebrate.

We do not wish to admit that people hate, that they would sacrifice their cousins, their brothers and sisters, and even their children to serve their hate, to prove they are right, and to force the world into their belief system. We especially do not like to admit to that kernel of evil that is resident within ourselves. We would rather attribute the atrocities of our forebears - the colonization, exploitation, slavery, acts of genocide, or standing idle witness thereto - to their particular circumstances or the Weltanschauung dominant in their time, than to admit that it was their nature, our nature, and the nature of humankind that made it possible. We justify our our own hate and prejudice by finding fault in the other. It is difficult to imagine that we could have perpetrated and tolerated the evil we have if there weren’t some underlying reason for it. So we stand by and let it grow again, and again, and again.

So what does this have to do with my friend Mr. Volk. Fortunately, his mother impressed upon him quite early on that one does not stand idly by and watch when injustice occurs. Recently, he has taken on what some may see as a small injustice. Zurich airport wants planes to fly their holding patterns over his part of Germany, meeting noise and pollution requirements in their own country by exporting their pollution to Germany. He related a comment that was made to him. A woman sympathetic to his cause said “I could never do what you are doing.” She could not take a stand against the figurative dumping of another country’s garbage in her own back yard, which I can not imagine to have been a particularly divisive issue on her home turf. I had to wonder who then would have taken it on if Mr. Volk had not?

We have a tolerance for a certain amount of injustice. But what level of injustice would have been enough to exercise this lady? Or would increased injustice just bring increased oppression that only the most courageous and heroic of us would fight against? Life gains purpose and meaning when we stand up to injustice, big or small. Mr. Volk has learned this and has a better life for it. Indeed, everyone in the fly-over zone has had a better life because of his big mouth. Moreover, knowing he has nothing to fear from opening his mouth gives him the strength to stand up when the issues are bigger.

My invitation to the German people - and the rest of the world for that matter - is to take in this an object lesson. Stand up to authority. It is not always on your side. For the sake of our collective future, open your mouths about the little things. If you do, you will be ready when the bigger ones come along. Confront the injustice that is in front of you today and you will not again fall prey to the hate and prejudice that consumes whole societies. If you fail to do so, the way is open for evil to flourish again.

Evil can not be appeased.

Evil can not be appeased.

::

The thoughts of Mr. Herz that make it into the ether.

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